1/  Gramigna                                   (Almamegretta,Higgins)        5.00
  2/  Rootz                                      (Almamegretta,Watts)          4.57
  3/  47                                         (Almamegretta)                5.35
  4/  Black Athena                               (Almamegretta,Halyard)        4.06
  5/  Ninas                                      (Almamegretta)                5.19
  6/  Berberia                                   (Polcari,Laswell,Bernocchi)   2.37
  7/  Fatmah                                     (Almamegretta)                4.19
  8/  En-Sof                                     (Almamegretta)                5.49
  9/  Suonno                                     (Almamegretta)                7.44
  10/ Respiro                                    (Almamegretta,Minieri)        4.45
  11/ Fratelli                                   (Polcari)                     0.27
  12/ Untitled                                   (????)                        3.56

          Recorded at Tanit Room, Naples, Megaride, Naples, Orange Studios, West
            Orange, New Jersey, Wessex, London
          Engineered by Gianni Ruggiero (Megaride), Lloyd Gardiner (Wessex,Matrix)
          Additional recording by David White and Bob Musso
          Additional programming on track 1 by Sandy Hoover & Count Dubulah
          Additional programming on tracks 2,7 and 8 by Sandy Hoover
          Mixed at Matrix by David White
          Tracks 1,2 and 8 mixed by David White and Sandy Hoover
          Track 7 mixed by David White and Lloyd Gardiner
          Mix Engineer: Lloyd Gardiner
          Produced by Sandy Hoover & David White with Almamegretta
          Mastered at The Exchange by Mike Marsh  
Rais: vocals; Gennaro T: beats; Paolo: sounds; D.RaD: noises; Count Dubulah (1,7,10): bass, guitar (3); Julie Higgins (1): rhymes; Dave Watts: rhymes (2), backing vocals (4); Pino Daniele (2): guitar; Neil Sparks (2,8): percussion; Deborah Johnson (3): backing vocals; Bill Laswell: bass (3,4,6), live bass (5); Dre Love (4): rhymes; Gino Evangelista: flute (5), oud (7); Eraldo Bernocchi (6): guitar; Larry Whelan (7): clarinet; Mamuur (9): vocals.

Strings on tracks 7 and 10 conducted by Tommaso Vittorini

          1998 - BMG Ricordi S.p. A. (Italy), 74321548251 (2x12")
          1998 - BMG Ricordi S.p. A. (Italy), 74321548252 (CD)
Note: The vinyl issue does not contain tracks 2,6,10,11 or 12.


One thing you can't call Almamegretta is prolific. The Neapolitan quartet, lead by the charismatic singer who calls himself Raiss, has made only three full-length albums since 1993, filling the time between major releases with re-mixed or live versions of previously issued material. Their latest, Lingo, released in Italy in early 1998 but only recently available in the U.S., came a full three years after its predecessor, Sanacore, which came two years after the band's 1993 debut, Animamigrante.

Their fans' impatience notwithstanding — a Napoletano cyberbuddy of mine told me before Lingo came out that "all Napoli" was awaiting the disk — Almamegretta's painstaking approach pays off. All of their albums are markedly different, yet each is unmistakably the work of a band with a singular vision and consistency of style. The common thread is their mastery of contaminazione, the aesthetic (and ideological) strategy that champions hybridity and syncretism. Animamigrante blended reggae, hip-hop and Neapolitan dance rhythms and vocal styles. Sanacore went deep into dub and ambient, with Jamaica's Black Uhuru and Britain's Massive Attack among the major influences.

Lingo is similarly "contaminated," but with a difference. On their previous recordings the ingredients of the stylistic mix were distinct, even discrete. This time, the band tried to make a record in which "it is difficult to separate the different layers in the fabric of a music that makes one forget its origin by offering itself as a multi-identity excitement" (from the band's unofficial website). And for the most part — Lingo does have its missteps — they've succeeded. The best tracks achieve a seamless blend of disparate styles — mainly hip hop, electronica, and North African, with un po' di blues and soul. (Surprisingly, Jamaica ain't in the house this time out.)

Lingo's aural environment is a moody, sometimes eerie nightscape, painted with thick washes of synthesized sound and electronic beats. But there are more "organic" textures, too. The American producer Bill Laswell and a mysterious character called Count Dubbulah play bass on a few tracks, and paesano Pino Daniele adds sinuous slide guitar obbligatos. Extra flava, molto saporito, comes from woodwinds, (non-synthesizer) string sections, Arabic percussion, and the occasional strum of an oud.

North African motifs are particularly strong in three consecutive tracks. "Berberia," a brief instrumental, leads to "Fatmah," a Napoli-meets-the-Maghreb outing that begins with a solo clarinet passage that introduces Raiss' vocal, his husky voice swathed in strings as he sings about a love that's tormenting him. (Love and desire, erotic and spiritual, inform most of the lyrics, making Lingo the band's least "political" record to date.) "En-Sof" continues the mood until it loses the Arabisms in a driving drum ‘n bass coda.

"Suonno" is contaminazione at a high level, with beats that alternate between African fluidity and the harder regularity of European techno. Mamuur, a Senegalese who now performs with the band, takes the first lead vocal, chanting in Wolof, followed by an ardent Raiss, in Napoletano. Strange, even a little disorienting, but also exhilarating.

Not everything works so well, though. The three tracks featuring English-speaking guest rappers fall short, partly because the rappers don't exactly possess mad skills, partly because the rhymes are wack. "Gramigna" offers "love yourself" bromides, while "Black Athena" treats as gospel the discredited claims of Martin Bernal's eponymous book. (Guess the de-bunking of Bernal by so many classicists, especially Egyptologists, hasn't reached Napoli yet.)

But even the weaker tracks offer something – an emotive Raiss vocal, a fruitful rhythmic experiment, a hint of tammurriata amid the techno — that arrest the ear and almost make you forget the missteps. Lingo captures the Almamegretta's end-of-the-century peregrinations into new musical territory, and I'm eager to see where these wandering souls go next — even though I know I've probably got a long wait in store.

George De Stefano (courtesy of the Italian Rap website)


On their fourth album, Almamegretta largely turns away from a Mediterranean take on dub-rooted On-U Sound science to connect with the larger jungle/drum'n'bass/electronica rhythm audience on the modern international dancefloor. The Italian quartet's trademark sonic elements and impressive command of texture flavor full melodies of structured songs, here more engaged than the guerilla techniques of the dub/mix culture. Lingo was recorded in England and various U.K. rappers contribute English lyrics, another sign that Almamegretta was bidding for a broader audience than Italy and the dub underground. "Rootz" is more of a drum'n'bass/jungle sound and "En-Sof" follows the same rhythmic path in a pretty muted fashion, with atmospheric keyboard layers and vocals dominating the arrangement. "47" falls more into trance/chill-out mode and "Suonino" grooves electronica-ally over a heavily wah-wahed keyboard bass. "Gramigna" rides a throbbing, upfront bassline by Count Dubullah (formerly of Transglobal Underground), but the reggae element is almost completely absent from the rhythmic equation. The basslines, largely split between Bill Laswell and Dubullah, are central to the songs, but they're more reggae-inspired than reggae-derived. Lingo is a good record and far from a failed experiment, but you have to wonder why Almamegretta so completely ignored their earlier base (and one they were exceptionally good at) in exploring these related realms.

Don Snowden (courtesy of the All Music website)