Robert Christgau:
Expert Witness

Angola Soundtrack 2 / Aby Ngana Diop / Ata Kak / Les Ambassadeurs du Motel de Bamako / Rough Guide to the Best African Music You’ve Never Heard / Monoswezi / Lala Njava / Dieuf Dieul de Thies / Alpha Blondy / Afrobeat Airways / Seun Kuti / William Onyeabor / Mark Ernestus

Robert Christgau
Mar 13, 2015 · 5 min read

Angola Soundtrack 2

(Analog Africa)

The vocals weren’t the point on the first volume of this crate dig, and that must have been it for quasi-pop, because here the vocals are pretty much irrelevant. When Tony Von—who I hope is still alive and bet isn’t, this was 40 war-torn years ago—starts chanting “N’hoca se” 45 seconds into “N’hoca,” which comes up third, the call to party is pretty much pro forma albeit inviting enough, and that’s a pick hit songwise. The guitars, however, are entrancing, various, pretty much transcendent. Play it loud and you probably will party if you’re good enough to dance to this tricky stuff. Play it soft and you’ll waft off on the hopes of a pre-civil war culture bravely and sometimes breezily forestalling the horrors to come. A MINUS


Aby Ngana Diop: Liital

(Awesome Tapes From Africa)

In 2010, I was lucky enough to hear music like this at 3 a.m. in a rundown Koranic school cum social club north of Dakar—a woman named Khady Mboup bellowing and expostulating over two xalams, four sabar/tama drums, a plastic washtub, and a female sidekick as three or four dozen paying customers came back at her with impossibly athletic dancing. It was so unrelenting I figured it couldn’t translate to record. Yet the YouTube I’ve found on Mboup is supper-club stuff compared to this 1994 barrage from a long-gone heroine of a female griot rap poetry called taasu. Four drummers and a drum programmer provide the instrumentation, three subsidiary female vocalists respond in unison to her call, and for half an hour the onslaught never lets up. Diop’s voice is pitched high for something so powerful, intense, and conversational. It gets hard to take without dance accompaniment after three tracks or so, and although to non-Wolof speakers it’s of a piece, the opening “Dieuleul-Dieuleul” tends to dwarf and subsume the five equally tuneless songs/poems/tracks that recapitulate. But it’s also almost otherworldly, with an energy that reminds me of great hardcore, Minor Threat or Bad Brains. Stop, please stop. No, keep going. A MINUS


Ata Kak: Obaa Sima

(Awesome Tapes From Africa)

Collectorama in extremis: seven-track, 35-minute album recorded circa 1993 in Toronto by Ghanaian emigre Yaw Atta-Owuso and then mastered back home where costs were cheaper. Some 50 cassettes were manufactured. of which an estimated three were sold. The only playable one known to survive was purchased from a Ghanaian roadside vendor in 2002 by Brian Shimkovitz, who began Awesome Tapes From Africa so he could release it. And Shimkovitz obviously has better ears than most collectors, because his pet rarity is infectious, charming, and idiosyncratically stripped-down. Credit not its preset beats but the bright tune sense and chipper singing and rapping of Atta-Owuso and the female chorus he had the sense to enlist. Atta-Owuso had no inkling that hiplife tyros in Accra were doing something similar—his Westernized Afropop is pure self-expression. Because no one heard it but his posse, it says nothing about the cultures that produced it but a lot about the musician who felt compelled to put it on tape—a lively, focused, friendly guy unlike any other you can bring to mind. A MINUS


Les Ambassadeurs du Motel de Bamako: Les Ambassadeurs du Motel de Bamako (Sterns Africa) Two discs of accomplished, formative Cuban Malian music in the evolving fusion rightly associated with the dominant Salif Keita, whose tracks outshine those of singers as top-drawer as Kante Manfila as songs (“Bolola Sanou,” “Mali Denou,” “Mana Mana,” “Djoula”) ***

The Rough Guide to the Best African Music You’ve Never Heard (World Music Network) Almost all from north of the equator, most roots acoustic rather than pop electric, with Senegal a wellspring and the good little Sotho Sounds album a bonus (Le Sahel feat. Idrissa Diop, “Yaye Boye”; Sigauque Project, “Alertos Da Vida) ***

Monoswezi: The Village (Riverboat) Zimbabwean-Norwegian quintet come this close to rising above exceptionally agreeable dinner music (“Nhemamsasa,” “Hondo”) ***

Lala Njava: Malagasy Blues Song (Riverboat) Put in time with a family band in Europe before returning consciously to her Madagascar roots deploying one of those paradoxical voices—cutting yet mellow, deep yet girlish, smooth yet with a well-tanned grain (“Sweet Lullaby,” “Baovola”) **

Dieuf-Dieul de Thiés: Aw Sa Yone Vol. 1 (Teranga Beat) Just exactly how many galvanic bands do you expect a city of 250,000 to power forward—to be specific, the Senegalese city that’s already given us Karantamba and the Royal Band de Thiés? (“Na Binta,” “Sibaye”) **

Alpha Blondy: Mystic Power (VP) Ancient Afro-reggae king begins strong, and maybe “La Bataille d’Abidjan” and “Danger Ivoirité” sound more that way to those who know exactly what they have to say (“Hope,” “J’ai Tué Le Commissaire”) **

Afrobeat Airways 2: Return Flight to Ghana 1974–1983 (Analog Africa) Funk and highlife meet and diverge, meet and diverge (Uppers International, “Aja Wondo”; K. Frimpong, “Abrabo”) **

Seun Kuti + Egypt 80: A Long Way to the Beginning (Knitting Factory) The old grooves are still good grooves, and if only the old imprecations were out-of-date (“IMF,” “Kalikuta Boy”) **

William Onyeabor: Who Is William Onyeabor? (Luaka Bop) Middle-class Nigerian mystery man lays down charming 1975–1985 Afrodisco catalogue before trading in the material world for his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (“Atomic Bomb,” “Love Is Blind”) *

Mark Ernestus Presents Jeri-Jeri: 800% Ndagga (Ndagga) For sabar drum fans, a whole clan of them—with vocalists, luckily including Baaba Maal (“Gawlo,” “Casamance”) *


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Robert Christgau

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A rock critic since 1967, I aint stopping now. My current gigs are with Billboard, Barnes & Noble Review, NPR, and NYU's Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music

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