Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide by Review Date: 2013-06-14


Fela Anikulapo Kuti: The Best of the Black President 2 (Knitting Factory Works, 2013) Compiled by U.K. Afropop advocate turned Fela specialist Chris May, this follow-up to the first volume (which adds naught but a DVD to MCA's essential 2000 Best Best of Fela Kuti) sets itself to showcasing the hero's stylistic range and political significance--rather than, for example, selecting another dozen slightly less compelling jams to spread over another two slightly less compelling CDs. There's a soulful slow track, a hoarse late track, a longer version of the first volume's "Sorrow Tears and Blood," and not one but two Ginger Baker features, the earlier of which is, by the artist's very high standard, untogether groovewise. Fela's striking clarity reflects an arrogance his singing progeny Femi and Seul can't duplicate. His power to project like the rebel son of a politically prestigious mother he was lends authority to his ideas whether right-minded or wrong-headed. Most righteous by me is the song May can't resist repeating, an attack on state repression where Fela repeats "Sorrow tears and blood" again and again and a council of men and women chants back "Dem regular trademark." Why shouldn't it go on for 17 minutes? A-

The Rough Guide to African Disco (World Music Network, 2013) Africans are obviously funky in their own way. But they did without trap drums and electric bass for so long that their attempts to imitate James Brown and his bootyspawn impressed only Afros coveting modernity and, a generation later, Euros too young to have experienced funk the genre in its time and place. As this belated showcase establishes, disco was much easier to copy, and while a few selections force it--the repurposed Mahlathini, for instance--most strike the right balance between cheap commercialism and heartfelt ambition. I'm especially grateful to find a use for the great lost Afro-rock venture Osibisa and yet another example of African trap master Tony Allen's versatility. And then--and then!--there's the bonus disc: a straight reissue of the 34-minute 1988 Soul on Fire, in which Camerounian guitarist Vincent Nguini covers seven soul classics (including "In the Midnight Hour" twice) as Syran M'Benza inundates faux disco arrangements in virtuoso soukous billows. It's very makeshift--tracks don't even fade, just stop. But Nguini sure does make soul journeyman Tommy Lepson sound like he coulda been a contender. A-

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