Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide by Review Date: 2018-11-30


Doctor Nativo: Guatemaya (Stonetree, 2018) His Cuban-born father killed circa 1990 in Guatemala's long and in crucial respects ongoing civil war, Guatemalan vocalist-guitarist Nativo defines his robust cumbia-reggae fusion as Mayan music, Africanized with the Garifuna styles of nearby Belize and bent on "social justice for his nation's indigenous majority." Moodwise it recalls upful French-Basque internationalist Manu Chao. But it's less yielding, with a groove that stomps. Although my tiny store of Spanish didn't suss out any language more specific than "Babylon," the translations on his website pit doctors against dictators, equate bureaucrats with politicians with cops, and call Bolivian comrades "B-boys." Yes his music is upful. But it's also ready to fight. A-

Sons of Kemet: Burn (Naim, 2013) A debut that flaunts their sound, suggests their parameters, and establishes their bona fides ("The Godfather," "Rivers of Babylon") **

Sons of Kemet: Your Queen Is a Reptile (Impulse, 2018) Where Elizabeth slithers, British-Barbadian tenor saxophonist Shabaka Hutchings's queens stand tall: Ada Eastman, Mamie Phipps Clark, Harriet Tubman, Anna Julia Cooper, Angela Davis, Nanny of the Maroons, Yaa Asantewaa, Albertine Sisulu, and Doreen Lawrence--one track apiece, look 'em up. This show of matrifocal bravado sharpens and embellishes Sons of Kemet's unique and arresting sonics: West Indian Coltrane/Rollins over two drummers, tuba for bass, and occasional intoned vocals. Purposefully yet also playfully, the implicit politics channel the sweep of the band's third and most finished album. My favorite sequence calms Angela Davis's speedy clatter with a playground melody that implies Nanny of the Maroons had more time for child care than her military record suggests, after which Yaa Asantewaa's track begins calm and builds like her Ashanti revolution. Or so we are left free to imagine. A-

Celestial Blues (BGP, 2016) Both "soulful" and "free," early-'70s jazz youngbloods equate liberation with transcendence--or anyway, that was the idea (Azar Lawrence, "Warriors of Peace"; Roy Brooks, "The Free Slave") ***

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