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World Music CD Reviews, November 2007

Album of the Month

Tabu Ley Rochereau: The Voice of Lightness

Tabu Ley Rochereau: The Voice of Lightness
Stern's Africa

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African musical legend Tabu Ley Rochereau may not be as globally well known as artists such as Miriam Makeba, Youssou N'Dour, or Ladysmith Black Mambazo. But the Congolese singer had a profound influence on the popular music of Africa through in the 1960s and ever since. This two-disc compilation captures Tabu Ley at the height of his fame -- including the time in 1963 when he left Orchestre African Jazz at the group's peak in order to form African Fiesta -- right up through 1977. The terrific liner notes by Ken Braun give you all the details and history, along with some great archival photos.

The collection would have benefitted by having detailed notes about each song beyond basic facts. And some of the recordings are sketchy, sounding compressed and dated. But ah,... the music. Sweet vocal harmonies, shimmering guitars, all backed by a subtle rhythm section and punctuated by sharp-edge horn blasts. This sophisticated African jazz must have been a wonder to behold live.

In recent years, Tabu Ley has been less active in music than in politics; he's a minister in the Congolese government. But this retrospective should kindle some renewed appreciation for his career and musical vision.

©2007 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media

THIS JUST IN! ... New World Music CD Releases

 

Chieck Hamala Diabate & Bob Carlin: From Mali to America (5-String Productions)
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By now, everyone knows that the instrument we know as the banjo had its roots in Africa as the ngoni (hunter's harp). Right? Still, you don't often hear the two instruments together. Diabate and Carlin change that with this laid-back album of truly African-American music. They tackle the tunes of the different continents separately -- "Cumberland Gap" and "Djelifily Tounkara" -- as well as mixing styles in the same piece, as on "Danaya/Jonny Boker." Sitting under a tree on either side of the ocean, the deliciously meandering melodies would sound equally wonderful.


The Afromotive: Scare Tactics (Harmonized Records)
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"They tell us to fear /... We say no to their panic tactic / ... We say no to their system of madness."

Singing in French and English, Ivorian singer Kevin Meyame leads The Afromotive in some righteously funky and positive directions. The 9-piece Ashville, North Carolina-based group takes Fela's legacy seriously, and uses great grooves to protest political corruption, economic inequity, violence, and lies. That there's currently plenty such fodder doesn't diminish the fact that this is solid music. A notch mellower than brash sound of Antibalas, The Afromotive are another welcome pin in the map showing the spread of Afrobeat worldwide.


Antonio Adolfo, Brazil & Brazuka: Destiny (Far Out Recordings)
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After listening to Destiny, I felt compelled to pull out Sergio Mendes’ 2006 release Timeless. Adolfo and Mendes were contemporaries, after all, and their recent releases both hail back in some ways to that 1960s heyday of their Brazilian pop stylings. But while Mendes brought in contemporary artists – most prominently the Black Eyed Peas – to build a bridge between old and new, Adolfo takes a dramatically different approach.

On Destiny, Adolfo eschews contemporary references, pairing the soft vocal harmonies of sisters Carol Saboya and Luisa Saboia with the gently funky guitar of Jose Carlos and Adolfo’s own keyboards, along with a rich, smooth backing of percussion, horns, and strings.

Amid the current flood of re-releases and retrospectives (not that I have anything against the better ones, mind you), it’s a fresh approach to have a musician record fresh takes of the music that was popular nearly a half-century ago. I’m not very familiar with Adolfo’s past work; he’s certainly not as well known as Mendes here in the US. But his productivity over the years is amazing, and has resulted in his compositions being recorded more than 500 times by artists such as Mendes, Stevie Wonder, Herb Alpert, even Earl Klugh!

Of the ten tracks on this album (or 12, if you download it from the label), my favorites may be the energetic “SOS Amazonas” [sample], “Luizão” [sample] and the “Tudo É Brasil” [sample]. Alas, no lyrics or song notes are provided with the CD.

Listening to Destiny, I occasionally think of a 1970s TV theme song, or expect to hear the music morph into a rap. But I respect the decision to keep the music focused on what it is. The soft, withdrawn vocal style at first put me off with its dated feel, but I’m warming to it. Yes, it would be easy to mock this music as so much more Girl-From-Ipanema elevator schlock, but that’s only the surface. Just because an album is subdued and doesn’t include dance remixes doesn’t mean it’s not great music. If you like the more subtle aspects of Brazilian music, give this one a listen.


©2007 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media

 

 



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