Various Artists

Holding Up Half the Sky: Voices of African Women

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As a compilation of Pan-African works, this compilation from Shanachie is amazingly thorough. Nearly all of the regions and musical styles of Africa are represented (as opposed to the usual style of just West African griot songs, or South African vocals, or Kenyan melodies, or soukous, etc.). The Mahotella Queens begin the album with a stunning display of the South African township style. They're followed by pop-funkster Angelique Kidjo on "Batonga." Senegalese mbalax singer Kine Lam is next, and then the powerful singer Aicha Kone from the Ivory Coast. Mbira master Stella Chiweshe contributes a work of skill on "Ndindereri," and Kinshasan M'Bilia Bel follows with a work from Rochereau. Ami Koita, a Manding singer, then appears to give tribute to a Guinean businessman. Mauritanian Malouma follows with a romantic song vaguely in the style of Umm Kalthum. One of the few "world divas" (along with Susana Baca and Ofra Haza), Miriam Makeba provides a piece of smooth African soul in "Ngewundini" and the Lijadu Sisters add in a piece of Afrobeat on "Orere Elegjigbo." Kenyan Malika furnishes a work of tarabu from the Arab/Swahili tradition. Next comes Tshala Muana from Zaire and Netsanet Mellesse from Ethiopia, both of whom use their own arrangements for works of current pop music from their homes. Finally, South African blues and jazz queen Dorothy Masuka provides a reworking of a former hit of her own, "Hapo Zamani." Overall, there are enough styles here with enough production to make any vague fan of African vocal work into a true believer. The process of making such a compilation can be trying for producers, but moreover can be trying for listeners. This collection, however, is stunningly well put together, showcasing only the best of the various genres of African female music, and forcing the listener to pay heed.

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