Le Carnaval D'Algerie, Hamidou, Natasha Atlas etc, Clapham Grand, London

Oh melody, oh disco - how may I exalt thee!
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The Independent Culture

It is Hamidou's first UK appearance in the tatty, draughty Clapham Grand, and a 95-per-cent Algerian audience greet him like a returning king. But it was all a bit up and down up before that.

The old theatre's seats were long ago replaced by a strobing Saturday Night Fever-style checkerboard floor, which, in an initially sparsely populated hall, creates the atmosphere of an art installation rather than an invitation to dance. But its jarring juxtaposition with the Grand's gilt plaster mouldings and chandeliers makes this a perfect setting for an evening of Algerian pop acts - for much of this music combines ornate traditional Arabic melodies with an exalted disco intensity.

More or less the same backing band - including two keyboard players, congas, drums, bass and guitar - accompany all the acts, but the quality is variable. For example Tizifun's blunt, stompy take on Rai is the Damned to Rachid Taha's Clash. By the time Natasha Atlas appears to duet with Ali Slimani (she's also here to support Algeria over the escalating French problem), her sinuous vocals are an agreeable break in what is otherwise a night devoid of female performers.

Slimani's music, with its Moroccan vibe, is more expansive and his one-time producer Jah Wobble's influence is apparent as the keyboards

get icier and the keys turn minor. Other rappers, crooners and groovers come and go, but it's those two keyboard players - who looked like trouble from the start - who make so much of this music hard to swallow: their shrill, doodling solos sounding painfully like Sooty's old pal Sweep singing in the shower.

When Hamidou does eventually take to the stage, that flashing dancefloor at last gets utilised to the full. The headliner accompanies his own rich, ragged vocals with intricate flamenco-like melodies on acoustic guitar. Every 30 seconds or so, an Algerian lad leaps up to kiss his cheek or pose next to him for a photo, as if he were a Madame Tussaud's facsimile rather than the real thing. He's completely unfazed by this adoration, and only fluffs a line once (the embrace was a little too macho).

Algeria has produced more than its fair share of world music stars over the past few years, Souad Massi, Rachid Taha, and Khaled to name only three. Hamidou should certainly be added to that list.

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