Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide by Review Date: 2011-12-20


Vijana Jazz Band: The Koka Koka Sex Battalion: Rumba, Koka Koka & Kamata Sukuma: Music From Tanzania 1975-1980 (Sterns, 2011) One band with two names so it could record over quota when it managed the journey to the studio in Nairobi, Vijana Jazz Band and its Koka Koka Sex Battalion doppelganger favored the typical East African iteration of soukous's rippling guitars. Sometimes this approach is compared to country music, but that's a metaphor, not a musical analogy--these guys aren't true soloists, and rarely is Nashville guitar so ramshackle. In East African rumba, guitars provide atmosphere more than content. The content's in the jocosely hectoring vocals and single-line saxophone interjections, which with this enjoyable little band are numerous and various enough to engage non-Swahili speakers who find some of the melodies warm and others tepid. B+

Bachata Roja: Amor y Amargue (iASO, 2011) This introduction to Dominican son was "recorded live to 2-track," sniffs the same label's co-released Bachata Legends, in which the original artists re-record decades-old classics smoothly and even beautifully but seldom enthrallingly. What the original vocals lacked in accomplished ease they made up and then some in quirky intensity, and they weren't anything like amateurish. With more at stake professionally and personally, these young singers grabbed onto the "bitterness" at the heart of their barrio-bohemian genre so as to dramatize not only the pain of thwarted love but the hunger for public identity that eats at a people after half a century of tyranny. Sometimes it's almost like they're crying. A-

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