Various Artists

African Xpress

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This is billed as a celebration of the West African musical tradition, which is mostly true (although Gigi is from Ethiopia, which at last check was nowhere near West Africa, and Hukwe Zawose is from the East African country of Tanzania) -- both the Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra (from the U.S.) and the Afro-Celt Sound System (based in London) do depend on West African elements in their music, while Frederic Galliano uses Malian singers in his soundscapes. It's more a look at the techno end of the African tradition, which has a certain hip cachet. Zawose's collaboration with Michael Brook is one of the most successful fusions, and among the most adventurous, while Issa Bagayogo's "Dambalou" has its firm grounding in his kamele n'goni playing, surrounded by electronica. Mali Music also plays with the West African form, subverting it with technology, as does Galliano. The more straight-ahead work -- from Femi Kuti, Tony Allen, Antibalas, and Kokolo Afrobeat Orchestra -- all comes in the Afro-beat style, which in itself is a hybrid of funk, Nigerian highlife, and jazz. So what does this anthology prove? Not a lot, really. Taken at face value, it would seem there are two ways forward for African music -- either bringing in technology to bring some changes, or expanding the swinging definition of Afro-beat a little. And the fact is that there's plenty more going on than that. However, these are all excellent tracks, worth a listen, be they cutting-edge or not.

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