If you're trying to be comprehensive, putting together a collection of modern African music could be overwhelming. Africa, after all, is a huge continent, and in the 1990s, it offered an incredibly wide variety of music that ranged from exuberant zouk and soukous to moody, jazz-influenced Ethiopian pop and the Middle Eastern-influenced sounds coming out of Algeria (the birthplace of rai), Egypt, and Morocco. Further, a label can either go the pop route or the traditional route; there's a major difference between an African pop singer who admires Peter Gabriel and Bunny Wailer and a griot who performs traditional tribal music much as it was heard centuries ago. Putumayo goes the pop route on Africa, which spans 1990-1998 and contains a variety of modern sounds from South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Guinea as well as the Congo, Cameroon, Mali, and the small country of Togo. This excellent CD isn't the last word on African pop, and Putumayo never claimed that it was. But the label does a nice job showing you its diversity by providing everything from Togo singer Afia Mala's haunting "Segne" and South African favorite Johnny Clegg's Sting-influenced "Love Is Just a Dream" to Zimbabwean star Oliver Mtukudzi's soulful "Ndima Ndapedza" and Congolese singer Richard Lemvo's salsa-minded "Manuela." While Cameroonian vocalist Henri Dikongue is introspective on "Francoise," exuberance defines Congolese group 4 Etoiles' soukous number "Doly." True to form, Putumayo provides an informative, detailed liner for this unpredictable collection.
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AllMusic Review by Alex Henderson