Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Afro Latin Via Kinshasa [Syllart Productions/Discograph, 2011]
Instead of a puzzle, the concept's Kinshasa edition gives us a solution. Cuban music was largely Congolese to begin with, and Congo's liquid Lingala lingua franca lubricated its foward motion where guttural Wolof brought out its stops and starts. Moreover, all but two of these 39 tracks are by just four artists: paterfamilias Grand Kallé, Brussels upstart Docteur Nico, and--with 22 between them--our old friends Franco and Rochereau. It's good to have so much Kallé and Nico in one place, though they clearly deserve overviews of their own. But such is the magnitude of the other two's legacy that only one of Rochereau's tracks is duplicated on his Sterns twofer from the same period, and none on Franco's (though there is one from his earlier and less essential Originalité). Chronologically the range is narrower and earlier than on the Dakar set. Demographically it's identified in the notes as upper-crust for Kallé's more sophisticated arrangements and anything but for Franco's cruder and more brilliant output. Guess so, but Kallé at his sweetest never hints at the dignity of the statelier Dakar grooves. Maybe the difference is Islam, or the rain forest, or happenstance. At this distance, we'll really never know. With this music, we're really not supposed to care. A-