Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Mbuki Mvuki [Original Music, 1993]
Formally, this is more sampler than compilation--23 tastes of an Afrocentric catalogue that's long on cultural idiosyncrasy, highlighting many Islamic and Caribbean genres and several so local they're barely commodified. You figure that even if it induces some inquisitive soul to try Tumba, Cuarta & Kai and Songs the Swahili Sing--or, more fruitfully, Azagas & Archibogs and The Kampala Sound--there's no way so much weirdness can hang together. But back in the '70s, when Africa Dances made the entire sub-Sahara its oyster, it wasn't just because we didn't know any better that we didn't notice the clash of styles. The unifying force was John Storm Roberts's passion for the simple melody and the folk-pop cusp--the best term I can think of for the fusion of village ways and urban overload, naive curiosity and pancultural daring, that permeates the musics he tells the world about. On this labor of love from Roberts's associate Richard Henderson, the same spirit connects Professional Uhuru's "Medzi Me Digya" to, say, Unknown Street Group's "Asoi." You could carp about folkloricism on a couple of early selections, but starting no later than cut six, an eternal New Year's call-and-response from the Dutch Antilles, the tunes just keep on coming. A