Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Mamani Keita

  • Yelema [No Format, 2006] A-
  • Gagner l'Argent Français [No Format, 2011] B+

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Consumer Guide Reviews:

Yelema [No Format, 2006]
On his first album with Keita, Nicolas Repac distinguished himself from her original svengali--Marc Minelli, who eased her into a loungey Euro-Africana whose acuity and integrity defied all odds--by balancing canny synth inventions with a wealth of Malian instruments and voices. Its charm, which in retrospect helps explain Minelli's success as well--and which eludes analysis because the grooves and melodic contours are so un-American--is the uncanny way Keita's own voice recalls the young Billie Holiday's plush, unpushy croon. The effect is about sound, not meaning--far from suggesting Holiday's irony or humor, the unrhymed summations the package provides are long on Afro-homilies, though the straightforward adoption advice and disdain for clueless elders have a sharpness to them. But after half a century of hopeless Holiday imitators, the physical fact is exceptionally seductive--and clearly not an imitation at all. A-

Gagner l'Argent Français [No Format, 2011]
After studying a video featuring a photo of Ms. Keita, abstract renditions of industrial worksites, and the lyrics in big block letters, I realized that I know enough French to follow a title song that goes, "Gagner l'argent franšais/Pas facile, pas facile"--"Earning French money/Isn't easy, isn't easy." I even learned a new piece of French slang: bosser, which according to means "to work, slog/slave away." That's a song-of-the-year candidate pour moi. Unfortunately, the rest of the lyrics are almost exclusively in Bambara, which in the absence of trots renders the album atmospheric by definition--spare and lovely, but not supernally so. Mastermind Nicolas Repac favors trap drums physical or otherwise, kora, and spookily ethnic-once-removed synths. A duet with gruff-voiced ngoni master Adama Coulibaly changes things up at just the right moment. B+