Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Staff Benda Bilili: Très Très Fort [Crammed Discs, 2009]
The backstory to the cover image of middle-aged African street musicians posed on their customized tricycles is so juicy that alert music lovers will put their guard up: handicapé, grown-up shegues (street kids, courtesy Che Guevara) hanging around the Kinshasa zoo form long-running band, meet Damon Albarn, hook up with Congotronics promoter. And indeed, their street voices and hand percussion do sometimes seem overly folkloric, even when they pursue soukous and reggae. But pulling everything up a notch is a teenager named Roger Landu wailing away on salongé, a one-stringed electric lute he invented. Not only does it make a sound you've never heard before and immediately want to hear again, but he's learned how to riff and solo on it. With Landu's embellishments, some pretty good songs--mostly in Lingala, about stuff like polio, cardboard boxes, Staff Benda Bilili, and of course l'amour--become pretty good songs you want to get to the bottom of. A-