Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Stern's Africa

This tour of Senegal, which is also the soundtrack to compiler-annotator Mark Hudson's novel of the same name, hops around chronologically and skips a dozen years: all of its 12 longish tracks were recorded either 1970-1980 or 1992-1995. It also sticks an uncannily Egyptian elegy from Congolese soukous godfather Luambo Franco in among its treasures. Yet it coheres like such conceptually unified multi-artist classics as The Indestructible Beat of Soweto and Guitar Paradise of East Africa. More or less constant are the piercing vocals, kora-like guitar figures, and insistently independent percussion familiar to pop adventurers via crossover aspirants Salif Keita and Youssou N'Dour, both represented here with cuts stronger and stranger than the music Americans know them for. It's not surprising that the early stuff experiments so roughly and daringly with rock guitar and hotel-band horns. But it's gratifying that even after mastering international pop, artists like N'Dour and Omar Pene can mix it up with the West and still prove there's no place like home.

Rolling Stone, Feb. 18, 1999