Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide by Review Date: 2012-09-04


Janka Nabay & the Bubu Gang: En Yay Sah (Luaka Bop, 2012) Before he left a war-wrecked Sierra Leone in 2002, Nabay made a name for himself by "modernizing" a Temne music called bubu. Maybe that just means electrifying, maybe more; in either case, this version suggests minimalist juju, only juju singing tends mellow where Nabay's vocals have a near-spoken roughness, with crucial melodic counterpoint from Boshra Alsaadi's sweet soprano. Translations provided notwithstanding, half the songs are basically grooves, with keyboard, guitar, bass, and electric drums all manned by Brooklyn hipsters of some renown. But these grooves vary structurally--hooked by a bass drone, an insistent drum pattern, some fetching keyb. And they always move. Given how stiffly white guys usually execute African beats, Brooklyn should be proud. A-

Staff Benda Bilili: Bouger Le Monde (Crammed Discs, 2012) Insofar as these beggars and thieves qualify as "roots revivalists," those roots are pop not folk, urban not rural: the liveliest revision of Kinshasa's rumba groove since the speed soukous of Mobutu's mad decline. Horns would be extravagances to professional musicians glad enough not to be sleeping rough anymore, and the guitar parts are rudimentary, with sebene duty done by the vaults and darts of a whining homemade lute that jolts rather than lilts much less flows. But though capable lead vocalist Ricky Likabu and startling high tenor Theo Nzonza don't soar on record the way they do live, both lift audibly out of the wheeled conveyances from which a gang of polio survivors articulated their humanity and launched their inspired hustle. A-

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