Various Artists

Kings of African Music

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African rhythms have provided the foundation of so much of the world's pop music, from blues and rock to reggae, funk, and rap, from jazz to salsa to hip-hop. Returning to Africa in their new pop clothes, these strains have, in turn, influenced African musicians, and have been, in effect, re-Africanized. No better example than Ali Farka Toure, whose spooky, bent-note guitar style (his "Hawa Dolo" is included here) sets American blues to stark calabash gourd percussion to create a kind of reformatted African blues. Senegal's Youssou N'Dour combines vague reggae underpinnings to a Curtis Mayfield-style vocal on "Mercy," the opening track on this collection. Other highlights include "Mhondoro" by the courageous Thomas Mapfumo, the Bob Marley of Zimbabwe. Mapfumo's mbira (thumb piano) playing is as explosive and expressive as any virtuoso on electric guitar. Manu Dibango's international hit "Big Blow" still sounds as hip as ever. Kanda Bongo Man's fast stepping and horn-driven "Zing Zong" also shines. This is a decent introduction to African pop, with most of the rough edges tucked away.

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