Various Artists

A Place Called Africa: Songs of the Lost Tribe

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Perhaps stung by the recent waves of quality reggae reissues by other labels who've mined their vaults, Trojan finally seems to be taking their own archives seriously. The idea for this comp is a natural given the connection betwixt reggae and the Afro-centric religion of Rastafari, and the even more obvious connection of an enslaved people with their homeland. Every track here is an expression of African identity, a statement of ethnic unity with a land tragically lost. Lots of great ideas like this get lost in academic hair-splitting, sacrificing groove for what's arguably more "important." Thankfully, that isn't the case here. Sure, there's some odd stuff here, but each unfamiliar track shines like a pearl in a mountain of mud. A terrific example is Desmond Dekker's "Pretty Africa," a song illuminating the rock-solid roots of an entertainer many have since dismissed as a lightweight. Careful selection and attention to sequencing weaves the disparate rhythms of ska, nyabinghi, rocksteady, and roots rock into a seamless, swaying whole. If the tracks get more familiar as one grooves deeper, (those in touch with the Black Ark label will hear a lot of old favorites) that's a fault one is glad to overlook as each song works magnificently in context. And, after all, how could you have a comp like this without Marley singing "African Herbsman"? Where would this record be without Alton Ellis or The Ethiopians? Perhaps it would be more archival, but I doubt the listening experience would be as good. One hopes the label is finally headed in the right direction and that this is not the last reggae-themed compilation from their vaults.

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