Consumer Guide Album
African Music [Vertigo, 1983]
It took the Dutch to assemble a decent compilation of Nigerian highlife, the r&b-ish horn-and-guitar music that came over from Kenya with founding father E.T. Mensah in the '50s. Less brassily arranged than Congolese rumba, these four-minute classics from the style's masters skip all over the past decade-plus yet mesh as gentle pop epiphanies for untrained ears. Many feature sax solos almost as laggardly as the gritty, half-conversational singing exemplified by patriarch Dr. Victor Olaiya. Both elements pulling against effervescent guitar hooks and the lift of multiple drums in indigenous patterns I couldn't begin to specify, with the pleasinigly received guitar solos occupying a middle ground where the music resolves. Though such generalizations don't hint at the reggae side trips and rock steals and best-selling vocals also present, they do sum up the music's sky-above-mud-below tension--an animistic charge that doesn't demand a literal belief in anybody's or anything's soul.