Ze Manel

Maron di Mar

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Zé Manel is the biggest and possibly the most important contemporary musician to come out of the African country of Guinea-Bissau. Originally the drummer with Mama Djombo, one of the country's most popular groups, he was forced to flee the country after his 1983 solo album, Tustumunhus di Aonti, whose politically acute lyrics put his life in danger. Maron di Mar is his return to his homeland, and it's equally thoughtful but a work of stunning maturity. With a voice that slides gorgeously in and out of the upper registers, his compositions also feature his wonderful multi-instrumental playing, with "Immigré" (not the Youssou N'Dour song of that title) an absolute quiet standout. The rhythms throughout float easily across the album, the arrangements airy and easy but still quite involving. To put it simply, this is one of the best and most accessible albums to come out of West Africa in a long time, making you wonder just why Zé Manel isn't the household name other African performers are. He has everything going for him: the voice, the instrumental chops, and the songwriting ability that shows itself so sharply on pieces like "Safinte na Baloba" and the title cut. Upon its release, this immediately became the biggest disc in Guineau-Bissau. It's not hard to understand why.

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