Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide by Review Date: 2011-04-29


AfroCubism: AfroCubism (Nonesuch, 2010) Here be Nick Gold's second attempt to come home with the literally Afro-Cuban record he intended when travel screw-ups kept the Afro contingent out of Havana and he concocted the Buena Vista Social Club instead. It was recorded in Madrid, and I hope all involved had a ball. But for those who never found the BVSC's creaky music as remarkable as its rocketing sales, and who know in addition that many of its key principals have passed, it's no surprise that the Africans save this enjoyable but less than historic project. Lassana Diabaté's balafon makes as much difference as Djelimady Tounkara's guitar, and though neither vocalist is prime, ngoni master Bassekou Kouyate packs more energy and gravity than second-stringer Eliades Ochoa even if his own solo album underwhelmed. Still, if you really want to hear an old man knock 'em dead, compare the Nico Saquito original of "Al Vaivén de Mi Carreta." B+

Monguito El Unico and Laba Sosseh: Salsa Africana--Monguito El Unico and Laba Sosseh in U.S.A. (Sacodisc, 2005) So my salsa-playing brother-in-law listens for a while and chides me indulgently for once again preferring African clave to the real thing. Not so abashed I don't remain into what I'm into, I think I hear what he means--the groove here is simultaneously more emphatic and more contained than in the Eddie Palmieri he's always promoting and the charanga he pops in now. Only as it turns out, these five tracks, which I have as an unannotated burn, were cherry-picked from circa-1980 sessions in which nasal, Cuba-born Monguito El Unico united chesty, Gambia-born Laba Sosseh with NYC salsa hotshots. In Dakar, Sosseh was a giant, supremely danceable in an era when salsa was the chosen music of the newly independent elite. In U.S.A., he was an exotic. This bypasses Sosseh's signature "Aminata" and "La Bicycletta." But the synergy of the two contrasting voices--plus, assuming the inevitable Nuyorican rub-off, three slightly different conceptions of clave--makes for yet another seductive variation on the Senegambian tinge. Not easy to find, and I've now heard other music by both Sosseh and Monguito that seems worth exploring. But this will always be where I started. A-

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