Alpha Blondy

Akwaba: The Very Best of Alpha Blondy

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Gifted with a sweet voice and a songwriting style that's sunny effervescence one minute, cutting and bitter the next, the enigmatic Alpha Blondy is an improbable combination of fun and revolution, new and old, earthy and tech, and more than anything, a tough one to compile. Akwaba: The Very Best of Alpha Blondy makes things even more risky by adding new remixes of some favorites, but the good news is they're tasteful, mostly beneficial, and probably just the way the modern-thinking Blondy wants to be represented. If you haven't encountered his reggae-by-way-of-Africa music, you're in for a treat, and Akwaba makes every effort to capture the maverick in a way that's thrilling. Tracks are laid out mostly in chronological fashion, but the sequencing occasionally jumps ahead or back in time to keep like songs separate, along with sprinkling in the new remixes to keep them from being afterthoughts or bonuses. Best of them all is the leading "Sweet Sweet," a more modern version of the closing "Sweet Fanta Diallo," with Lester Bilal providing a French rap. Up next is the slinking "Brigadier Sabari," Blondy's revolutionary arrival on the music scene with slow boiling venom. From here on it's wise picking of album tracks, all hooky and infectious but vital lyrically. If you don't speak French and Dioula, don't worry because the handholding liner notes explain what the pain, tension, and hope in Blondy's voice doesn't. When the disc ends, you realize you've heard some electronica, a wicked African reggae interpolation of the Ohio Players' "Fire" called "Wari," and an exciting collaboration with UB40, all held together by one man. Start here because as any longtime fan can tell you, Akwaba is an excellent introduction to this versatile artist.

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