Fode Baro


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Fode Baro may get credit for the compositions and lyrics on Donsoke, but either his disc got hijacked or he was simply an interchangeable part to slot in to the slick Paris session machine. It's a latter-day Ibrahima Sylla production, with three Diabates on backing vocals, a horn section of premium-priced French session men, and keyboardist Philip Guez as music director -- and poor old Fode Baro just gets overwhelmed. The opening "N'na" is arranged much like an American soul/R&B tune with a rap midsection between horn lines and traditional elements that are submerged within the tracks but not stressed. The title track falls squarely in the late-'80s Salif Keita Soro mode sans cinematic sweep, but it still swallows up Baro's light, clear voice. "Fanta Gbe" returns to that soul/R&B flavor, but filtered through very busy Afro-Paris arrangements that end up really going over the top. It's the reggae-grooved "Allah Kabo" that clearly reveals what's up -- Guez never met an open space in an arrangement he liked or left a simple lick alone when he could come up with a more complex one. So there are horn parts on top of synth sounds, too-active bass and guitar lines -- wait a minute, here come the backing vocals now, and it's a chop-city extravaganza with everybody showing how much they can play. "Koumayema," with Ya Mbongo Lokassa aboard for rhythm guitar authenticity, is a soukous rave-up attempt, but just as you're starting to lock into the appealing guitar line, here comes the avalanche. "Niamakoro" is uptempo anonymous, and the other thing is: you've heard all these arrangement moves before. Same deal with "N'koro" -- the backing vocals are totally Soro-era Keita, the horn flashes pure Kassav' (but they fit in the zouk groove a million times better than here), and damn, are those keyboard sounds overbearing. Know how some African music purists bitch and moan all the time about programming and how the '90s Paris releases suck compared to the good old days? This is the sort of disc they mean -- totally hi-gloss, hyper-produced, a European idea of what African pop music can sound like -- and this time they're dead-on right.

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