Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide by Review Date: 2012-06-26

2012-06-26

Electric Highlife: Sessions From the Bokoor Studios (Naxos World, 2002) Ghanaian-Nigerian highlife was a pop music not just because it was urban and popular, but because it produced something resembling hits and stars--in their world, the Victors Uwaifo and Olaiya were genuinely famous. Not these eight early-'80s guitar bands John Collins recorded in Accra. As all too part-time musicians in a ruined economy, they share a likably ramshackle feel, which infused by the good cheer they mustered in the face of 100 percent inflation is enough to sell this collection. But I noticed a funny thing when I looked closely at the second Rough Guide to Highlife, which is that its two finest tracks began their public life at Bokoor: the hummable one by the Black Beats, who had a long if varied career elsewhere, and the musicianly one by Francis Kenya, who seems to have been Collins's greatest protege. Think there were some players over in Ghana? Must have been. A-

The Rough Guide to Highlife (World Music Network, 2012) Although the label's second pass at this expandable concept tends quirkier and quieter, in-house compiler Rachel Jackson goes for the gut tunewise. From the surprising pre-Afrobeat Fela who opens to the gospel falsetto-as-girl group who close, every song stands out, so much so that Jackson really could have risked Celestine Ukwu's "Osundu" rather than repeating the oft-compiled "Igede." Special faves: the Black Beats' "Tsutsu Tsonemo" for hook, Gentleman Bobby Benson's "Taxi Driver" for lyric, Francis Kenya's "Memia" for guitar compression, and Chief Stephen Osita Osadebe's "Osondi Owendi" for guitar expansion. There's a slight tailoff before the gospel closer, but not so as to spoil your appetite for the bonus disc by the university-based trio Seprewa Kasa. On Riverboat four years ago, I found their preservationism a mite polite. Here the same album provides a graceful, restful, informative coda. A

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