Various Artists

Musica Negra in the Americas [2000]

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This is exactly what the Network label does so well, taking an idea and developing it thoroughly over the course of two CDs, with a booklet full of information for the listener. While it's impossible to fully encompass African music in the Americas in just two discs, since it's been the foundation of so much music throughout North and South America, they give it a remarkably good try, covering North, South, and Central America as well as the Caribbean. One of the most interesting pieces has to be Ecuador's Carmen Gonzalez with "Caramba," where the marimbas sound like a balafon and the rhythm is directly out of West Africa. But everywhere the influence is there, more than just strong, but completely palpable, even in the duet between Muddy Waters and Big Mama Thornton on "Gimme a Penny," as vital a blues workout as you're going to find. Andy Palacio explores the paranda tradition of former slaves in Belize, while Colombia's Toto La Momposina really takes it back to Africa, working with Djanka Diabaté on "Mami Wata," a song that easily crosses the Atlantic. The Congos essay a sound that spreads from reggae to gospel -- and to someplace in history -- on the glorious "Fisherman," perhaps Lee Perry's best-ever production. However, every track is a delight -- and an education as well, bringing home just how powerful the influence of African music has been in the Americas and how strongly those brought over as slaves were able to keep the flame burning inside during all the years of pain and servitude. The producers have avoided the obvious, and instead made a grab for the aorta, to find the heartbeat of African music as it was hauled across the Atlantic. Nigh on perfect.

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