Various Artists

Africa: The Women's Voice

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This generously apportioned (67-minute) survey of contemporary woman-sung African music is taken from recordings spanning the early 1990s to the early years of the 21st century. (Although the date on one track, Miriam Makeba's "Pata Pata," is not given, it's certainly not her original recording of that song.) Africa: The Women's Voice is wide-ranging both stylistically and geographically, taking in performers from South Africa, Zimbabwe, Mali, Mauritania, Ethiopia, Cameroon, Cape Verde, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. A few of the singers -- Makeba, Aster Aweke, Oumou Sangare, and Sally Nyolo of Zap Mama -- are among the more famous female African performers, though the majority of them likely won't be too familiar outside of specialized world music circles. Frankly, some of the stuff here doesn't have the spark of African music at its best, favoring the easy-going dance groove common to much of the genre, but there is variety. From South Africa, there's the choral call-and-response vocals of Women of Mambazo, formed by Nellie Shabalala and her husband Joseph Shabalala, the latter would find international fame as part of Ladysmith Black Mambazo. Sangare's dynamic "Kun Fe Ko" has mesmerizing interactions between back-and-forth vocal lines and sparse, traditional instrumentation. Rokia Traore's "Bowmboi" is an unusual collaboration with the American ensemble the Kronos Quartet; Nyolo's "Bebele" strips down the call-and-response structure of much African music to its spare essence, with only swinging light percussion and bass tones as accompaniment, and Tété Alhinho's "Scutam Ess Morna" is a longing ballad not far in feel from the Portuguese fado form.

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