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Radio Tarifa

By Jesse Kornbluth
Published: Mar 15, 2012
Category: World

Do you remember when every Northern Italian restaurant played the same music at night?

You know what I mean: the Gipsy Kings.

If so, you remember their signature song, the loud, attention-seeking "Bamboleo."

And if you’re like me, you remember how sick of them you became after your twentieth or twenty-fifth Groundhog Night encounter with their music.

I beg you: Don’t let the cultural antibodies created by over-exposure to the Gipsy Kings stop you from expanding your World Music collection by one indispensable CD, Radio Tarifa’s seductive, addictive "Rumba Argelina," a CD featured on the Guardian’s list of “1,000 albums to hear before you die.”

Rumba began life as African music. Slavery brought it to the New World, then back to Spain. The music of the Gipsy Kings is mostly the Spanish-based rumba flamenco — a passionate, raspy singer slams the lyrics against a pulsating flamenco melody. Radio Tarifa is far more subtle. "Rumba Argelina" means "Algerian Rumba," which suggests a blend of Spanish and African music that’s richer, quieter and far more satisfying.

For those who have never been to Tarifa — that’s almost all of us — let’s break out our maps of Spain. is the end of the line — in ancient days, it was considered, literally, the end of the world. Just down the road from Gibraltar, it looks across at Morocco. You are invited to imagine that boats going back and forth carried more than fruit and contraband.

The concept of "Radio Tarifa" is that of a radio station — an imaginary channel you dial into at night. The air is warm. There’s a brisk wind off the water. The DJ — I see him wearing wire-rims and writing poetry and smoking cigarettes; he started doing this gig when his marriage ended — takes pride in his work. The music just….flows.

And me, here in America? I’ve got the lights down. Or off. Smoke curls from my fingers. There’s a glass of something by my elbow. The music begins, and so do the dreams. I’m in a cafe by the sea, in jeans and a white oxford shirt with the sleeves rolled up. Or it’s midnight, and, in a nod to "Spanish hours," my friends and I are meeting at a steakhouse along the coast for dinner. Or…but sometimes I drift so far I can’t place where I am and how I got there. No matter: I’m both alert and relaxed, full of thoughts and fantasies that I don’t feel any need to write down. Yes, this is Trance Music. [To buy the CD from Amazon, click here.]

The musicians of Radio Tarifa may be folk heroes in Spain, but they’re unknown here in America. I saw them perform once in New York, and they were astonishing. First, the range of instruments:  electric guitar, ney (Arabic flute), oud (Moroccan lute), oboe, soprano sax, bass, and a great variety of hand drums than I’d ever seen before. And then, the diverse kinds of music —  flamenco, Arabic, Middle Eastern, jazz, rock, medieval chants in Latin, music, Oriental, German, Andalusian, Sephardic, Sanabrian  — woven into a tapestry with universal appeal. And, finally, their sheer artistry. They know how good they are, they don’t need to show off.

There’s a bit of static on the CD sometimes, just to remind you of the radio concept. And once, between songs, the splash of small waves. Not the sort of thing you’d hear over the crowd noise of an Italian restaurant.

Then again, this isn’t a CD you’re likely to hear in a restaurant. It is, rather, exactly when connoisseurs mean when they speak lovingly of a "rare find."