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World Music CD Reviews, January 2008

Album of the Month

Mr. Something Something & Ikwunga: Deep Sleep

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The meanings behind the idomatic English of Nigerian Afrobeat poet Ikwunga may be sometimes puzzling, even with the provided lyrics. But the spirit of the griot clearly shines through as he delivers the lines with authority atop a writhing bed of polyrhythms and horns provided by Toronto group Mr. Something Something.

The song "Di Bombs" may be familiar from the compilation ASAP / Afrobeat Sudan Aid Project -- it's a danceable rant against the importation of weaponry and the overseas greed that drives conflict in Africa. My only complaint is that the album is too short; just five tracks (under 45 minutes) plus three shortened radio remixes. That and the lack of song notes, without which the listener might not grasp, for example, that "DNDABP" is calling for dialogue to resolve the crises in the oil-rich Niger Delta. But don't minor flaws keep you from this powerful burst of social critique, particularly if you're already an Afrobeat fan. Ikwunga's unique poetic Afrobeat is a winner.

©2008 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media

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


Dengue Fever: Venus On Earth (M80)
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Three years after their deliciously different debut Escape from Dragon House, California-based Khmer-rock outfit Dengue Fever returns with more of their trademark Cambodian-flavored retropop. The concept still sounds like some critic's parody of an absurd world-fusion band, but as I discovered a couple years ago at Bumbershoot, these guys can rock a crowd, even if they're singing in a language shared by less than three percent of the globe's population.

On the new album, whether for poetic reasons or simply to make the music more widely accessible, you'll find several tracks in English, including the trans-oceanic love song "Tiger Phone Card" and the designated-driver blues "Sober Driver." Then there's the bilingual emotional-dripping "Tooth and Nail," which sounds like a Bollywood ballad that got lost and wandered across several borders unchallenged. Or maybe it's the soundtrack to a spy movie set on the beaches of SE Asia. It's that uncategorizable. And that fun.

MC Rai: Raivolution (Embarka)
MC Rai - Raivolution


If you see the "rai" label and automatically retreat from what you expect to be yet more cheesy, emotion-dripping Algerian pop, you owe this album a second look. And a thorough listen. MC Rai was born in southern Tunesia, and while he was raised on the traditional folk music called Chaabi, somewhere along the way he picked up a lot of other musical influences, combining Rai, rock, rap, and electronica. He also picked up his things and moved to San Francisco in 2000, laying the foundation for this album as he brushed up elbows with artists including Cheb i Sabbah and Michael Franti.

The songs are largely hard-driving, beat-laden affairs, suitable for dancing without the thumpy monotony often associated with club music. For that, credit the arrangements that include plenty of lush strings, along with bits of kora, trumpet, accordion, oud, and various traditional north African instruments. I initially pegged this album as too much, too loud. But I'm giving it a second listen, and digging it immensely. MC Rai offers you a glimpse of North Africa's musical future, if you're willing to look.

©2008 Scott Allan Stevens, Earball Media



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