I don't know Arabic, but after hearing what Souad Massi does with the lanaguage I wouldn't mind learning.
I came across Massi's Deb by accident while browsing in the Jazz section at Borders. Massi is an Algerian folk singer -- in fact not Jazz at all -- with a light fusion touch (her songs here have a touch of flamenco). She's currently based in Paris, though she didn't move there until 1999. An interview in the Independent suggests that Massi moved to Paris after getting into a little trouble with militants in Algiers following the release of her first album. It's hard to understand why, since there are no political songs on Deb (the liner notes come with translations of the songs). But then, there's no arguing with these people, is there?
I don't want to wax too poetic about the music (you can listen to samples at Amazon or here), except to say that the production quality on Deb is simple and just about perfect, opening up space for Massi's voice. She's not trying to be a pop or cross-over hit, so she avoids the fate of singers like the Egyptian Natacha Atlas (who doesn't quite do it for me). Sometimes you just want a singer and an acoustic guitar.
This review wants to emphasize Massi's 'rebel' side, and compares her to Joan Baez and Tracy Chapman, neither of whom seem particularly similar.
And here is an interview at BBC, after she was nominated for a British World Music award in 2003. There Massi hints that life in Paris for a modern/secular Algerian woman isn't necessarily that simple either.