Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide by Review Date: 2013-05-14


Orchestra Super Mazembe: Mazembe @ 45RPM Vol. 1 (Sterns Africa, 2013) Clearly a first-rank band, they were also clearly a band without a true star on vocals or guitar. Since beyond a single drummer their music was all vocals and guitars, this is a limitation. Nor does the songcraft help much. So this lovingly conceived, skillfully engineered reconstruction from the big-holed, two-sided originals provides nine slightly subclassic soukous tracks averaging eight-and-a-half minutes apiece--in the East African manner, of course, which is less coruscating than its Congolese counterparts. Samba Mapangala does take the lead once, and it's fine listening throughout. But it's definitely for adepts of the style. Mastermind Doug Paterson's thorough notes include summaries of Lingala lyrics that are more woman-friendly than Afropop so often is. B+

Kenya Special (Soundway, 2013) There were hundreds of 45s released every month in the Nairobi of the late '70s and early '80s, many of which have disappeared, as happens when some artists can only bankroll their releases in batches of 50. But enough have survived to sustain a crate dig that aims for quality rather than rarity or oddity. The stylistic range of these 32 high-level selections is audible without a scorecard--playful savannah-pop harmonies, tight hotel bands with their dance numbers, many English lyrics, enough benga to scratch that itch, and numerous one-of-a-kinds. Don't expect much airy soukous a la Guitar Paradise of East Africa--that was more a Tanzanian thing. And for all the welcome variety and obscurity, the most exciting music is five minutes of a horn section anchored by the great Verckys--not funk by a long shot, but Brownian in its momentum. Also recommended is the scorecard, which runs 40 pages. A-

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