Souad Massi | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Souad Massi 

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There isn't a trace of rai--the amped-up street pop sung by the likes of Khaled and Cheb Mami--in the music of Souad Massi, a striking young folksinger from Algeria whose influences range well beyond her homeland's borders. While most Algerians her age (she's 32) soaked in rai, hip-hop, and funk, she gravitated toward 70s folk-rock singers like Joni Mitchell and Loudon Wainwright III; thanks to a guitar-playing uncle, she also developed an obsession with flamenco. Massi played with a flamenco troupe and a hard-rock band before giving up music in the late 90s, fearful of reprisals at the hands of her country's Islamic fundamentalists, but she was coaxed out of her short retirement to take part in a 1999 Paris concert featuring Algerian female singers. Her performance there caused something of a sensation, and she decided to settle in France to launch a recording career. On her most recent album, the ballad-heavy Deb (Wrasse), she weaves in bits of Indian percussion, Congolese soukous, and traditional Arabic love songs (her uneven debut, Raoui, also tossed dancehall, gnawan trance, and flaccid rock into the mix). Her gorgeous voice holds it all together: her phrasing has a liquid grace that lends an appropriate air of melancholy to her songs, which intertwine tales of romantic disappointment with meditations on the human costs of Algeria's ongoing sectarian strife. A few of her songs are almost bland enough for Lilith Fair, but she's clearly something special. Massi's show in Chicago is one of only six dates on her first U.S. tour. A trio led by local Moroccan qanun virtuoso Hicham Chami kicks things off. $15-$30, all ages. Friday, July 2, 9 PM, Gateway Theatre, Copernicus Center, 5216 W. Lawrence; 847-830-8277 or 312-927-2746.

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