Various Artists

African Odyssey

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Eight African countries are represented in this installment of the musical travelogue which is Putumayo's Odyssey series. What these tracks have in common is a mellow, urban groove. There are none of the splashy party numbers that prevail on many of Putumayo's other releases. This would be music for relaxing or romance if not for the socially charged lyrics on some tracks. Acoustic guitars, soft percussion, and traditional African instruments such as n'goni and sansa are the order of the day here. Les Go (The Girls), a female group from Mali and Guinea, combine the traditional with the contemporary in their "Sou." Their breathy harmonies lay like gauze over n'goni, Malian flutes, and percussion. The n'dan, a six-stringed Malian harp, meets synth in Adama Yalomba's "Miri Yôrô," a plea for generosity in the face of poverty. Zimbabwean artist Oliver Mtukudzi contributes "Raki," a simple ballad with electric guitar ostinato and a gentle backbeat. Augusto Cego's "Mar" is a Cape Verdean morna, a slow contemplative piece with an emotional quaver in the vocals and moody phrasing. Artists from Guinea-Bissau, South Africa, Kenya, and other countries make appearances, giving teaspoon-sized samplings of the distinctive sounds of their regions. As with most compilations, a taste is all that is possible, but the flavors here all add up to a rich, subtly seasoned stew.

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