Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Stern's Africa

Congolese music's great surviving big man gets the American best-of he has long deserved

A stickler for terminology, Papa Wemba refuses to call his music soukous or rhumba, but that'll do for us non-Africans. The 55-year-old is the greatest vocalist ever to work the Cuban-inflected dance genre that dominated his native continent in Afropop's heyday--as powerful when he's clear as when he's rough, and surpassingly gentle when he croons. He's also a demanding bandleader whose guitarists can billow smoothly in the finest Congo-Parisian manner but early on nailed less delicate effects. With the ingrained mastery of the village chief he might have been, he's turned out gorgeous, muscular, propulsive music for three decades. Only the departed rhumba paterfamilias Franco has had his name on a collection as impressive as this 18-track double CD.

Blender, May 2005