Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide by Review Date: 1988-12-27

1988-12-27

Papa Wemba: L'Esclave (Gitta, 1988) Wemba is probably the most famous and certainly the most flamboyant of the many graduates of Zaiko Langa Langa, the band that turned rumba into soukous with hard guitar and traditional rhythms and structures in the early '70s. His high, harsh voice cuts like it's serrated, and the harmonies are almost acrid sometimes, just like Nguando Milos's lead guitar lines, which break away from the merely engaging competition both sonically and melodically. An admirer of the old discursive song forms, Wemba milks soukous's bipartite conventions for something very much like drama--more than once I've assumed a piece was ending only to have it break into a perfectly inevitable aftermath. Inspirational liner note: "La ville et le village: deux visages que j'aime!" A

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