Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide by Review Date: 2011-05-27


Afro Latin Via Dakar (Syllart Productions/Discograph, 2011) With its ill-organized, ill-translated notes and obscure sequencing, this two-CD collectorama is a puzzle to think about. But not to hear--it listens great. Dates run late '60s to early '80s, though without a decent scorecard it can be hard to tell what's when, and tempos trend medium, presumably to flatter the dignity of Senegal's post-independence elite, which was the core audience for what we'll call Senegalese salsa even though it was made by musicians from all over West Africa and often recorded in Abidjan. This elite audience the notes don't note amid their oft-told tales of Louis Moreau Gottschalk and Cuban sailors bearing precious 78s, but if you'll compare Addis Ababa's mood in the Éthiopiques comps you'll hear what I mean. Even the dance numbers are pretty contained. Key players include Orchestra Baobab in its many iterations (six of the 32 songs, only the climactic "Papa Ndiaye" known to me), master vocalist Laba Sosseh (get this man a best-of), and such relatively big names as Papa Seck, Thione Seck, and droll saxophonist Issa Cissoko, who got around. Though the annotator's boasts of rare 45s and student bands make one fear collectibles for their own sake, there are few clinkers and not many generics. Baobab fans especially will know where this music is coming from and be happy to hear more. A-

Afro Latin Via Kinshasa (Syllart Productions/Discograph, 2011) Instead of a puzzle, the concept's Kinshasa edition gives us a solution. Cuban music was largely Congolese to begin with, and Congo's liquid Lingala lingua franca lubricated its foward motion where guttural Wolof brought out its stops and starts. Moreover, all but two of these 39 tracks are by just four artists: paterfamilias Grand Kallé, Brussels upstart Docteur Nico, and--with 22 between them--our old friends Franco and Rochereau. It's good to have so much Kallé and Nico in one place, though they clearly deserve overviews of their own. But such is the magnitude of the other two's legacy that only one of Rochereau's tracks is duplicated on his Sterns twofer from the same period, and none on Franco's (though there is one from his earlier and less essential Originalité). Chronologically the range is narrower and earlier than on the Dakar set. Demographically it's identified in the notes as upper-crust for Kallé's more sophisticated arrangements and anything but for Franco's cruder and more brilliant output. Guess so, but Kallé at his sweetest never hints at the dignity of the statelier Dakar grooves. Maybe the difference is Islam, or the rain forest, or happenstance. At this distance, we'll really never know. With this music, we're really not supposed to care. A-

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