This compilation of West African pop highlights from the late '70s to mid-'90s was selected by Mark Hudson in his guise as Andrew Litchfield, the A&R main character of Hudson's novel The Music in My Head. The artists are well-selected, roping in major figures like Franco and Salif Keita alongside its main focus on the different Senegalese groups that emerged from the seminal Star Band of Dakar.
Surprisingly, it's the Senegalese connection that comes up a bit short here. Etoile de Dakar's "Thiely" is most notable for its weirdly psychedelic guitar leads, blaring horns, and ragged but exiting double-time ending. Youssou N'Dour's voice is a bit screechy at 18 -- he does far better with the mature, rough edges he showed 17 years later on the pretty, low-keyed groove of "Njaajan Njaay." Cluttered with percussion clatter, Thione Seck's homage, "Laye M'Boup," isn't that gripping -- unfortunately, since it's ten minutes long. Alou Fane's "Baba No. 2" is a faster version of Mali's Wassoulou sound that's well-done but doesn't quite match the women singers from the region. Music in My Head really picks up with Etoile 2000's rough-edged "Boubou N'Gary" -- kinda punk rock Senegal circa 1980 behind vocalist El Hadj Faye and guitarist Badou N'Diaye's screaming, distorted guitar solo over galloping rhythm guitar and racing percussion. It rocks and so does "Djirime" by unknowns Gestu de Dakar with a very clean, almost-surf guitar solo. Keita's majestic "N'Toman" maintains momentum and Franco's "Kinsoiona" pits gentle guitar against horns and massed vocals that wrap up the consistent flow that arrived with Etoile 2000. Make no mistake, these are major artists anyone interested in early West African pop should know, and there's plenty of excellent music in the individual tracks. But that doesn't necessarily add up to a truly great compilation, and Music in My Head as a whole doesn't come together quite well enough to equal the sum of its parts.