Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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  • Rumba Congo [Sterns Africa, 2001] A-
  • Congo Life [Sterns Africa, 2003] *
  • Kinavana [Sterns Africa, 2006] A-

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Rumba Congo [Sterns Africa, 2001]
Led by the now ailing guitar legend Papa Noel, eight well-grizzled veterans of the soukous wars sit around the kitchen of the heart and play some songs they've been working on. As long on lilt as it is devoid of drive, the abiding quietude is irrelevant to an up-and-at-'em mood. But when nothing seems sweeter than home, it's a blessed comfort--the harmonies whispering, the drums twining, the groove massaging each overtaxed muscle until the blood can do its work there and flow on. A-

Congo Life [Sterns Africa, 2003]
Plus flute and violin, minus Papa Noel and the thrill of the first second time around ("Delali," "Souvenirs-OK-Jazz") *

Kinavana [Sterns Africa, 2006]
The gray-haired Congolese-rumba revivalists solve their songwriting problems with an album of Cuban classics associated with "celestial" guajiro de salon god Guillermo Portabales. Not knowing the originals, I suspect I'd prefer these remakes, which have been Africanized rhythmically and linguistically and given all-new Lingala lyrics--the one I'd like to understand decries the efforts of African born-againers to ban non-Christian music. Extra flavor is provided by Franco star Madilu System, kinshasa queen Mbilia Bel, and saxophone hero Manu Dibango. One of those Congolese records that seems totally dedicated to the worship of beauty. A-