Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide by Review Date: 2014-09-26

2014-09-26

Hassan Hakmoun: Unity (Healing, 2014) Born into a family of Gnawa musicians in Marrakech in 1963, Hakmoun wasn't yet 25 when he settled Stateside, where his adaptable three-string sintir soon made him bassy North African aide-de-camp to Don Cherry and thence Peter Gabriel. Through Gabriel, he released several showbizzy mid-'90s CDs, but on his first album since 2002, the resounding steady-state propulsion of the opening "Zidokan" soon had me wondering whether I'd judged too quickly. Over 12 longish tracks, Hakmoun beefs up his trad axes and hoarse humanitarian imprecations with plenty of "rock" guitar, trap drums, percussion add-ons, and electronics, and for 70 minutes his fusion never stops moving long enough for your schlock anxiety kick in. Nor does the fact that "Zidokan" is slower than most diminish its propulsion a thrum. A-

Oumar Konate: Addoh (Clermont Music, 2014) Fine Malian singer with explosive trad drummer whose best song after "Welcome" concerns a nation ruined and whose best song after that concerns shaking that thing ("Bisimillah," "Ir Ganda Hassara," "Ayéré Yéré") ***

Orchestre National de Mauritanie: Orchestre National de Mauritanie (Sahel Sounds, 2013) Circa 1973, a desert land dreams briefly of cosmopolitan Conakry before its modern modal dreams are swallowed by the army and the sands ("Senam-Mosso," "Oumletna ['La Mone']") **

Tinariwen: Emmaar (Anti-, 2014) The facts as I see them. 1) Although Tuaregs are infinitely superior to Islamists insofar as they're not Islamists themselves, the imagined Tuareg homeland of Azawad is unlikely to be any juster a nation than Mali although maybe not Niger. 2) That's academic, because there'll never be an Azawad. 3) Tinariwen are tenacious self-promoters with a strong signature sound. 4) Tinariwen was the first band to export the Saharan style, but if you favor exhilaration in your music, better ones followed. 5) Tinariwen's practical principles compel and/or permit them to sell tiny variations on the same thing to a world-music market less discerning than it thinks it is. 6) Their second album for this alt-rock powerhouse is somewhat more exhilarating than their first only because the first was designed to be quiet. 7) The first, called Tassili in case you forgot, has better cameos. 8) Aman Iman from back in 2007 has more women on it. 9) Aman Iman is the one to have if you're having only one. B+

Wayo: Trance Percussion Masters of South Sudan (Riverboat, 2013) Drums beating high and fast, women singing high and fast--not "hypnotic," more like scintillating ("Woe Woe Wee Odo Gbere Ni Fanini [The Beautiful Girls Are Wonderful]," "Wa Ma Bire Re Kuragi Amsmar Ni Wiri Paranga Re [When You Next See Me, I Will Have Graduated]") *

Bambara Mystic Soul: The Raw Sound of Burkina Faso 1974-1979 (Analog Africa, 2013) Not raw--Afrofunk cooked up from the Latin beats, Islamic grooves, Manding melodies, and Malian guitars of Upper Volta's more prosperous neighbors to the west (Coulibali Tidiani, "Sie Koumgoulo"; Amadou Ballaké et Les 5 Consuls, "Renouveau") ***

1970's Algerian Folk and Pop (Sublime Frequencies, 2014) Going for melody rather than groove, sweet even when they don't quite hit it--and sometimes they do (Freedom [Hourya], "Abadane"; Smail Chaoui, "N'sani, N'sani") **

The Road to Jajouka: A Benefit Album (Howe, 2013) The centerpiece is ghaita master Bachir Attar, inheritor by hustle of the stoned Moroccan aulos-and-oud-variants-plus-percussion music that has fascinated kif-addled Westerners since Brian Jones traipsed into the dying mountain village of Jajouka with a tape recorder in 1968. Live there's nothing remotely like its eldritch sonorities and impossible rhythms, and sometimes (not always) that's enough in itself--more than enough. On record it's dicier, with the Bill Laswell-produced 1992 Apocalypse Across the Sky the standard. Until this. The angel is drummer Billy Martin of Medeski, Martin & Wood. The other participants? Well, how can you not love desert-mountain weirdos who can make a single thing of, to name the ones I know in alphabetical order, Ornette Coleman, Aiyb Dieng, DJ Logic, Flea, Mickey Hart, Bill Laswell, Medeski, Martin & Wood, Lee Ranaldo, Marc Ribot, Howard Shore & the London Philharmonic Orchestra, and John Zorn? Largely NY-avant, sure, but on one sonically coherent record whose sound recalls none of them? Further enhanced by a female Indian vocalist unknown to me and the bassist from Ween? And the greatest of these is--who else? Hint: turned 84 March 9. A-

The Rough Guide to Arabic Café (World Music Network, 2014) Why can't we all just get along? (Ali Hassan Kuban, "Abu Simbel"; Maurice El Medioni, "Bienvenue/Abiadi") ***

The Rough Guide to the Music of Mali (World Music Network, 2014) Strong enough throughout, and quite a culture at quite a moment, but does it peak when Bassekou and Oumou come on (Terakaft, "Awa Adounia"; Khaira Arby, "Goumou") ***

The Rough Guide to the Music of Palestine (World Music Network, 2014) Such a civilized nation it has its own hard rock, tourist reggae, lounge chanteuses, and bad fusion (Le Trio Joubran, "Newwar"; Khalas, "Badek Zafi") **

The Rough Guide to the Music of the Sahara (World Music Network, 2014) Volume two--its sequel status unnoted as usual--showcases quite a few of the individual artists whose voices emerged from what seemed a realm of barely differentiated mystery on its magnificent 2005 predecessor, and sneaks in extra music by the extra-dry Niger cross-tribalists Etran Finatawa, who back two other Wodaabe aggregations with dreams of escaping the cattle trade. This is a positive. Except for Sahrawi diva Mariem Hassan, who deserves all the kudos she can get, and Nubian master Ali Hassan Kuban, who provides his usual shot in the arm, these artists are better served by a single song than a whole album anyway, and both Wodaabe entries provide needed weirdness. There's also a bonus disc perfect for anyone seeking a whole album by someone who can't sustain one, because Mamane Barka comes damn close on a five-stringed harp you've never heard of perfected by a fishing tribe you've never heard of either. Not Barka's tribe--in the Sahara, a high school diploma is a broadening thing. A-

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