Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Renegades of Funk

The rare "rare grooves" relic with something to offer between the samples

As black Brits, the eight-piece Cymande (pronounced sah-mahn-day) were so out-of-the-blue in 1972 that what they called "Nyah-rock" was assumed to be part African. But Cymande were entirely Caribbean, split evenly between Jamaicans and Guyanese, with a mellow lead singer from St. Vincent. Guyanese bassist Steve Scipio defined a deep, laid-back thrum that tends toward roots reggae--"Zion I" especially makes clear that "Nyah" references the mutable Rastafarian buzzword Nyabinghi, which includes rarely heard drumming and chanting styles the band glancingly recalls. Embraced by such hip-hop beat miners as De La Soul and the Fugees as well as the rare-grooves set, their world-funk has gained character over time. Silly title aside, this well-designed collection sums Cymande up--the grooves on the accompanying collection Promised Heights are too rare, and chilly, for most of us. Instead, sink into the inspirational "Bra." Dance atop the conscious club hit "Brothers on the Slide." And then, surprise, find something to dig in almost every one of the 14 remaining tracks.

Blender, Apr. 2008