Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide by Review Date: 2012-09-14

2012-09-14

The Rough Guide to the Music of Ethiopia (World Music Network, 2012) The latest of the label's unlabeled updates/Second Editions/Volume 2s of national overviews they did well by the first time (catalogue number: 1286CD) favors 21st-century material whether it's quinquagenarian Dutch punks inviting a septuagenarian saxophonist up from Addis or Tirudel Zenebe's abrasive Ethiopian disco. On some of the 13 tracks, the beats and tonalities first documented by the completist overkill of Buda Musique's Selassie-era ?thiopiques collections are infused with a funkier feel, but the old-school stuff also sounds pretty fresh--my favorite is a contemplative workout on a buzzing lyre called the begena by Zerfu Demissie, one of many artists here better served as a taste on a sampler than an album-length meal. Which in turn is provided by Anglo-Ethiopian Invisible System's bonus disc, a best-of that often surpasses their track on the overview. Start with "Gondar Sub," or "Dark Entries." A-

Songs for Desert Refugees (Glitterhouse, 2012) All proceeds from this charity comp go to two NGOs serving a war zone created in part by the Tuaregs whose music it puts to use--music more humane by definition than Tuareg nationalism, but just as fierce in its cultural pride. Since that music can seem as unvaried as one of the desert vistas the Tuaregs see in a detail we can't, the multi-artist format provides easeful marginal differentiation rather than jarring stylistic disparity. As with 2005's Rough Guide to the Sahara, the 12 tracks, most previously unreleased and all postdating that prophetic piece of genre-making, progress like a single expression toward the showy new jack guitars of Tadalat and Bombino and the overdue female voices of Toumast and Tamikrest. A-

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