Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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In France, where African emigrés energize the most enthusiastic and affluent Afropop audience in the world, the plummy, plangent voice of 27-year-old Malian Oumou Sangare has been a sensation for most of this decade. And in her Islamic homeland, this impassioned opponent of polygamy and arranged marriage is so popular that politicians pay lip service to her newfangled feminist ideas. Onstage, Sangare's complex charisma is totally convincing--simultaneously regal and outgoing, sexy and sisterly, traditional and emancipated. On record, admittedly, it's easier to access once you've learned her story and glanced over the lyrics of Worotan (World Circuit). But before long, undistracted attention to the sounds on her third and best album make clear that she's an effective progressive in music as well as politics. The interlocking rhythms, the unforced synthesis of African and American instruments, and the occasional horn charts from James Brown alumnus Pee Wee Ellis add up to a bunch of tracks anyone in the market for some fresh funk can appreciate and enjoy.

After something of a dry spell on America's Afropop front, a few other releases are also recommended. Paris-based Zairean Tshala Muana is a less challenging breed of songbird than Sangare, but her second U.S. album, Mutuashi (Stern's Africa), does a nice job of sprucing up the soukous rhythms that have kept the continent going for two decades now. Joseph Chege, in his other life a postgraduate student in Iowa, generates the bright-eyed innocence of early Kenyan benga on Kickin' Kikuyu Style (Original Music). And for those looking for a way in, compiler Daisann McLane dips into the Caribbean and even the U.S. on her superb introductory tour of the rhythms of the African diaspora. It may be called Kwanzaa Party! (Rounder), but for these musicians, every day's a holiday.

Playboy, Nov. 1996

Oct. 1996 Jan. 1997