Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide by Review Date: 2013-04-02

2013-04-02

Bombino: Nomad (Nonesuch, 2013) Producer Dan Auerbach joins in only as the bassist on "Niamey Jam." But with an American bassist on half the tracks and a German drummer doubling Bombino's own guy half the time too, this is the hardest-rocking of the hard-traveling Tuareg guitarist's three distinct albums. It does sweeten as it proceeds, as befits the "nostalgia" two first-ever translations cite--a nostalgia anybody whose homeland is a war zone has earned. The lyrics are very simple. My favorite, in its entirety: "This era/The era of young girls/Their way of loving/Works in a different way/Prayers to you, my brothers/Better to be sensitive/For our girls/Those of this era." A-

Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba: Jama Ko (Out Here, 2013) I swear I thought the third album by Youssou N'Dour's ngoni man of choice might be the best ever to come out of Mali even before I got to the notes. There I learned that recording began on the day Kouyate's friend the president was overthrown by the military, and that two songs celebrate anti-Islamist heroes of 19th-century Mali--a martyr whose refusal to leave his animist faith inspired his Muslim protector to fight to his own death for it and a soldier who drank beer in the sanctimonious face of the Muslim cheikh who'd persuaded him to fight for a faith he refused to obey to the letter. From the title party anthem on out, the mood and message are inclusive not just because sharia law proscribes music altogether but because Timbuktu anti-clericalist Khaira Arby gets a track, because the Taj Mahal cameo is the most irreverent Malian blues ever recorded, because every song is fired by Kouyate's political and philosophical passion. Two melodies reach back centuries. Strong-voiced frontwoman Amy Sacko delivers the word. And although the ngoni is a mere lute, Kouyate gets more noises you want to hear out of his strings than any two jam-band hotshots you can name. A

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