Various Artists

National Geographic: Destination Africa

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A collection of relatively low-key African songs from the National Geographic: Destination collaborations with Sugo Music. There's a good emphasis on the realm of music without the stereotypical heavy drumming. This is contemporary music almost exclusively. Influences from jazz are thick, as are nods to the ever-present soukous. Music was culled from essentially every corner of the continent (with the exception of the Egyptian region, which is generally excluded from "African" compilations anyway due to its closer cultural ties with the Middle East), as artists spring forth from Algeria in the north, South Africa in the south, and all points in between. The instrumentation is largely non-traditional, with soft guitars taking the forefront along with the more important vocals. Smooth lyrical work is the key to most of the album, using a number of better-known artists to add to the allure. Wasis Diop, Oliver Mtukdzi, Geoffrey Oryema, and Henri Dikongué all provide pieces here, as well as some rather lesser known (at least in the Western markets) artists, such as the a cappella group Cutt Glas and the Algerian fusion group Seba. Extensive liner notes full of maps and cultural information remind the listener that this is a National Geographic outing, and add a good deal for the new listener. If you're looking for straightforward drumming and the masters of the traditional instruments, this is perhaps not the best album. If you're looking for a nice collection of contemporary sounds from the continent though, this would be a good start, and a stepping stone for further exploration into the various musical niches.

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