Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide by Review Date: 2013-08-06


Spoek Mathambo: Escape From '85 (free download, 2013) Insofar as I even know what these remixed hits from the year of Mathambo's Soweto birth are--"Like a Virgin," got it; "Centipede," don't tell me you forgot Rebbie Jackson; "Shikisha," must be Cape Town's Razz Brothers; "We Can Dance," search me; "Future," ditto--the resemblance is minimal, often based on some beat element DJs notice so we don't have to. All are transformed into rap-disco lite that bears Mathambo's Afropop-futurist stamp no matter who his collaborators. So airy it's perfect when you need a lift. Also so airy it threatens to float away altogether. B+

Hailu Mergia & His Classical Instrument: Shemonmuanay (Awesome Tapes From Africa, 2013) Informative yet silly notes to the contrary, this Ethiopian one-off, recorded in Washington in 1985, isn't "lush," "futuristic," or, please God, "psychedelic." It's spare, nostalgic, and passing strange: accordion plus Rhodes plus Moog plus drum machine with which one-man-band Mergia, a successful professional in his homeland who wasn't a fan of the genocidal Mengistu "Marxist" regime then steadily expunging Addis's nightlife, recalls and recapitulates the modal melodies of his youth. Basically it's cocktail music, but with two big differences: a tune base like no cocktail music anywhere, and the necessity of reducing music Americans now know primarily from Éthiopiques horn bands to simple pattern, momentary idiosyncrasy, and painful longing. Mergia tried music promoting in D.C. for a while. He now drives a cab there. A-

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