Even if you've never heard of Egyptian singer Hakim, you only need to glance at his latest CD, Yaho (Mondo Melodia/Ark 21), to realize he's a pop star to his core: in one of the booklet photos he raises his fist triumphantly in front of a jubilant throng, and in another he handles a mike with Tom Jones flair. He's one of Egypt's most popular practitioners of shaabi, or "street pop," a relatively young genre that combines traditional instruments and folkloric melodic material with urban dance beats and a propulsive contemporary singing style. It arose as a way to reaffirm national identity after Egypt's defeat by Israel in 1967, but soon the working class made the music their own--like American blues or Portuguese fado, shaabi began to confront everyday concerns in its lyrics, and singers like Ahmed Adaweyah expressed anger, sorrow, or lust with a bluntness that kept many of their songs off the radio. Over the years shaabi grew in popularity, and in the 1990s the rise of Egypt's biggest pop star, Amr Diab, pretty much turned it into glossy, Westernized, synthesizer-driven pop with little connection to the Cairo slums that nurtured it. Like Diab, Hakim is a heartthrob who deals mostly in love songs, but Yaho shows that he's not afraid to experiment. Several tunes were produced or mixed by English multiculti dance crew Transglobal Underground, giving them a surprising extra oomph; on the other hand, when he attempts something of a retrofitted Irish jig with "Ayunu Nar," it's impossible not to wince. Most of the songs are built on rigorous, fast-paced grooves sculpted from programmed drums and Middle Eastern hand percussion, accented by mournful strings, percolating accordion riffs, punchy brass charts, plucky patterns from an Arabic zither called a qanun, and jaunty countermelodies on a ney, or cane flute. In a nasal, sublimely soulful voice, Hakim sings each tune like a veteran jazz musician playing a familiar standard, investigating every nook and cranny; he introduces subtle curlicues, swooping dips, and rushes of melismata and consonance with impressive improvisational zeal. He'll perform here with a 16-piece orchestra. Saturday, March 17, 7:30 PM, Donald E. Stephens Convention Center & Ballrooms, 5555 N. River Rd., Rosemont; 773-580-9063 or 847-366-8641.


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