Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Hata Unacheza: Sub-Saharan Acoustic Guitar & String Music, ca. 1960s [Canary, 2013]
Initially assembled by de facto musicologist Ian Nagoski as an atmospheric mixtape for his Baltimore record shop, these 18 songlets from 7 African nations proved the biggest seller on his tiny label, which bemused Nagoski: "A great, little collection, but it's incredibly slight work." And slight it may be by musicological standards. But as its simple melodies range over assorted moods, they recall for me the kind of charm, at a lower level of intensity and delight, that proved so momentous on John Storm Roberts's Africa Dances half a century ago. This comparison speaks well of Nagoski's ears while making you wonder just how "slight" delight can ever be. And then at the end come two not so happy ones from tiny Burundi near the former Zaire, counted the world's unhappiest country by the UN's World Happiness Report (and what does it mean that there needs to be such a thing?). First comes Francis Muduga's deathly "Whispered Song," and you've never heard anything like it. But then follows Ntiruwama's lively "Shoza Abarinda," which is all guitar and seems a proper reprise, a proper closer, and a whisper of hope for Burundi. A-