Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Le Grand Kallé: His Life, His Music [Sterns Africa, 2013]
Ken Braun's exhaustively selected, expertly annotated document of the Congolese borrowings, innovations, and masterstrokes that dominated Afropop into the 80s is as solid as yet smaller than a slab of virgin vinyl: two CDs flanking a 104-page bound booklet dominated by Braun's typically well-schooled critical-historical opus. Joseph Kabasele was born into a prominent Roman Catholic family--an uncle became Africa's first cardinal--but broke away as a music-mad teen to become the most influential early master of the rumba that evolved into soukous. Kinshasa's Luambo Franco and Tabu Ley Rochereau got their start with Le Grand Kallé; Cameroon's Manu Dibango was his European buddy long before and long after "Soul Makossa." The high-born Kabasele never matched the bite or lift or blat of these titans. His music tailed off by the mid 60s, although he always remained a force, and he was smoother than neoprimitivists might prefer. But he was a singer of exceptional sweetness and flow, and he had true pop savvy--it wasn't just his hustle that turned "Independence Cha Cha" into a continent-wide anticolonalist theme song or induced John Storm Roberts to begin the groundbreaking Africa Dances comp with "African Jazz Mokili Mobimbo." You can play these discs for days without getting bored. I know because I've done it. A-