Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Les Ambassadeurs

  • Les Ambassadeurs [Rounder, 1984] A-
  • Les Ambassadeurs Internationales Featuring Salif Keita [Rounder, 1992] A-

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Consumer Guide Reviews:

Les Ambassadeurs [Rounder, 1984]
Though it's billed as "dance music from West Africa" (these folkie labels, anything for a buck), what you notice is more for the ears than the feet--the emotional range of Mali tenor Salif Keita, a far more stirring singer than the renowned Rochereau, and the way Kante Manfila's guitar anchors synth here and horns there. Gorgeous. And if you wonder what Keita's emoting about, read the notes. He doesn't much like war, prefers past leaders to present, hopes the poor man's prayers will be answered but que sera sera, praises not just cops but also informers for combating the drug scourge, and passionately opposes the newfangled practice of men marrying women older than themselves. Oh well. A-

Les Ambassadeurs Internationales Featuring Salif Keita [Rounder, 1992]
Where Rounder's first Ambassadeurs reissue was a vocal treasure-house billed to the band, this attempt to cash in on Keita's modest portion of fame is a band showcase headlined by the vocalist. Keita had left before one track was recorded, and on all five the instrumental bed is more seductive than the excellent singing it supports. You wait for Kante Manfila's guitar, for the oddly tuned horn riffs, for the unidentified keyb (Farfisa? Casio?) that evokes heavy wah-wah, cheap alto sax, unalloyed synthesizer. Penciling shadows of kora and kalimba behind local beats and copycat tintinnabulations, it documents a moment before West African dance music had figured out what to do with Congolese hegemony or its own traditionalism, and a lovely moment it must have been. A-