Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

The Rough Guide to African Disco [World Music Network, 2013]
Africans are obviously funky in their own way. But they did without trap drums and electric bass for so long that their attempts to imitate James Brown and his bootyspawn impressed only Afros coveting modernity and, a generation later, Euros too young to have experienced funk the genre in its time and place. As this belated showcase establishes, disco was much easier to copy, and while a few selections force it--the repurposed Mahlathini, for instance--most strike the right balance between cheap commercialism and heartfelt ambition. I'm especially grateful to find a use for the great lost Afro-rock venture Osibisa and yet another example of African trap master Tony Allen's versatility. And then--and then!--there's the bonus disc: a straight reissue of the 34-minute 1988 Soul on Fire, in which Camerounian guitarist Vincent Nguini covers seven soul classics (including "In the Midnight Hour" twice) as Syran M'Benza inundates faux disco arrangements in virtuoso soukous billows. It's very makeshift--tracks don't even fade, just stop. But Nguini sure does make soul journeyman Tommy Lepson sound like he coulda been a contender. A-