More than a piece of musicology, this collection of six extended songs is a living slice of the communal and spiritual life of Algiers. The power of these tracks comes from their almost casual ability to sound simultaneously like a group at prayer and a bunch of locals keeping the party going.
?Abdel Hadi Halo &The El Gusto Orchestra of Algiers? was recorded in the fall of 2006 at the invitation of filmmaker Safinez Bousbia, who was in the country making a documentary on the local culture and on the effects of the brutal 1990s war in the region. Pianist Halo is joined by four singers and a slew of anonymous oud, accordion and zither players, as well as several drummers.
In the interaction of the stringed instruments and the percussion, in the call and response and seemingly spontaneous turns at the mic, the effect of these songs is laid back and celestial at once. Love, for Allah, for each other, for their culture, fuels the participatory glory of tracsk like ?Win Saddi? and ?Min Yaati Kalbous Lil Melah.? Even without knowing the language, you are entranced by the power and raw but gently rhythmic songs. The final song, ?Mal Djifni,? clocks in at almost twenty minutes and is stunning in its sweep and emotional colors.
Abdel Hadi Halo &The El Gusto Orchestra of Algiers is a brilliant and moving document of an amazing band, and a culture forged by the influences of Arabic, Jewish and Moorish contributions. This record celebrates the present as it pays homage to the past. 8/10 -- Mike Wood (6 August, 2008)