Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Rokia Koné & Jacknife Lee: Bamanan [RealWorld, 2022]
Koné was one of the less renowned West African feminists to sign on with Les Amazones d'Afrique, the permanent floating grown-up girl group nonstop activist Angelique Kidjo took over after Oumou Sangare withdrew, and in that context embraced a groove-first aesthetic. But here the more melodramatic structures of her international solo debut, produced by an ex-punk who's worked with everyone from Modest Mouse to Taylor Swift, recalls Youssou N'Dour if it does anyone, and it's to both Koné and Lee's credit that I can type those words without getting the shakes. Her instrument sinewy as opposed to sizable, declarative as opposed to sharp, Koné is gender-positive without caring whether she wears the pants; the hater-baiting "Shezita" and the kindly "Mayougouba" bespeak a spirit that's proud when it needs to be while continuing to tend sweet-tempered, its morality declarative rather than polemical. The keys-and-drums groove with which Lee drives the best-in-show "Kurunba" is deployed to lift up a middle-aged mother who's outlived her child-rearing usefulness. It's followed by the contemplative and rather beautiful "N'yanyan," which Koné reports is a traditional song about mortality. A-