Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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"Take, don't give" is a good rule of thumb for African musicians who want to go pop. Rather than striving to service audiences you'll never understand from the inside, grab what you like from disco, art-rock, folk music, anything Euro-American that strikes your fancy, and play it your way. Three very different new albums prove the point.

Kwaito: South African Hip Hop (Stern's/Earthworks) is really more house than rap. The muscular rhythms and voices that always mark the region are energized by both jack-your-body synth riffs and the free-ranging excitement of life without apartheid. Result: some of the purest party music the continent has ever produced.

Youssou N'Dour's Joko (The Link) (Nonesuch) is easily the supplest and least self-conscious album the golden-voiced Senegalese superstar has ever aimed our way. He's been recording a lot of dance music in Dakar, and the local focus has been good for him--this time, instead of interrupting the flow, the studio effects he always goes for on his U.S. releases augment it.

Rokia Traore's lissome Wanita (Indigo) is the second album by a 26-year-old Malian who uses only traditional instruments, but combines them in untraditional ways. If you think her soprano sounds hauntingly familiar and uncommonly beautiful, that may be because her harmonies sometimes aren't traditional at all. Not traditional African, that is--Traore grew up in Europe too.

Playboy, Aug. 2000

July 2000 Sept. 2000