Various Artists

Zaire: Music of the Shi People

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In the 1990s, JVC Music put out an incredibly wide variety of world music for its JVC World Sounds series. The aim of the series was not to document modern ethno-pop, but rather, to turn the spotlight on traditional acoustic sounds from all over Africa and Asia as well as the Middle East and Latin America. So when the series turned its attention to African music, it favored traditional tribal music over western-influenced pop styles such as soukous and zouk. The vocalists/musicians documented on Zaire: Music of the Shi People are not professional recording artists -- they're artists that Japanese musicologist Dr. Tsutomu Oohashi happened to come across when he visited Lwiro, a small village in Zaire. Rhulinobo Elige, Joker Shamavu, and Munyeno Vesoo (all of whom belong to the Shi branch of the Bantu tribe) are singers who play the likembe, which like the kora, is among Africa's traditional thumb pianos. To be sure, this is skeletal, barebones music -- rhythmically compelling, but probably too raw and esoteric for the casual world music fan. Those who are seriously interested in traditional African tribal music, however, will find a lot to admire about Music of the Shi People.