Pierre Akendengué

Obakadences

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The blind Gabonese poet/singer/composer/dramatist Pierre Akendengue is one of the world's great songwriting geniuses. His two albums immediately prior to this one, Lambarena and Maladalite, were collaborations with the brilliant French producer Hughes de Courson. Both were towering, career-defining achievements and his admirers were left wondering what manner of follow-up he could possibly devise. The good news is that the material on the present album is typically fresh, iconoclastic, and joyous. On this work of his late-middle age, the Maestro employs an array of eclectic multicultural references from the African continent, the Caribbean, South America, and North America. His light, vibrato-laced tenor soars above intricate call-and-response backup vocals and female-dominated chorales like a puckish master of ceremonies, projecting a questing intellect and mature humor. The tracks were recorded between Libreville, Gabon, and Paris, France, which may explain why the arrangements seem less glossy, although they feature dozens of musicians, including armies of brass and acoustic hand-percussionists plus a relaxed, soukous-style lead guitar. The tunes are highly sophisticated, even when wreathed in deceptively childlike chanting. A lyrical ballad called "Lambaiya" is especially winsome, with lyrical squeezeboxes and gleaming, kora-like keyboard runs. However, despite the engaging loveliness of the pieces and Akendengue's firm command of his forces, the ambience is compromised by gauche synths and overemphasized basslines. Even so, this is a rewarding set, brimming over with lush melodies and thoughtful, humanistic sentiments.

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