Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

African Pearls, Vol. 1: Rumba on the River [Syllart, 2006]
Ibrahima Sylla, the capitalist angel of Afro-Parisian Hi-NRG, compiles 44 soukous songs recorded in and around Kinshasa in the innocent years between 1954 and 1969, with the 1969 one, Nico's rippling "Tour d'Afrique," slicker but no less sweet and gentle than the 1954 one, Grand Kalle's undulating "Ambiance Kalle Catho." These were 45s, 28 of them 3:20 or less, but they don't separate out readily for us non-Lingala speakers. Instead they're a river to rumba on, invariably softer than their Cuban models even when they imitate them. Talent scout extraordinaire Grand Kalle is the glue, and Tabu Ley is a bigger standout than Franco. Greatest hit: Sam Mangwana's 1968 "Festival Bilombe," which breaks into an irresistible trumpets-plus-pidgin-Spanish seben at around 1:20. A-