Putumayo Presents: French Caribbean isn't the first time a Putumayo compilation has had an Afro-Caribbean orientation, but is the first Putumayo disc that has focused specifically on the Afro-French side of Afro-Caribbean music. Unlike 1997's Caribbean Party and 1999's Caribe! Caribe!, this CD is almost devoid of English lyrics -- all of the artists on French Caribbean perform in either French or Creole. Of course, not all Afro-French music comes from the Caribbean; there are French-speaking countries in Africa (Cameroon, for example), and Afro-French music also exists in Louisiana. But French Caribbean doesn't get into African pop or Louisiana music; the artists on this compilation are from Haiti (Zin, Haiti Twoubadou, Carimi, Michel Martelly, Emeline Michel), Martinique (Taxikréol, Ralph Thamar, Kali), or Guadalupe (Kassav'). And even though all of the artists have an Afro-French orientation, French Caribbean is far from monolithic. Some of the selections are highly exuberant -- especially Zin's "Kanpe Sou Yon Bit" and Kassav''s live performance of "Writ" -- but others favor a moodier, more dusky approach, such as Haiti Twoubadou's "Ki Demon Sa-a," Martelly's "Pa Manyen Fanm Nan," and Michel's "Moso Manman." salsa/Afro-Cuban music is a major influence on this CD, as are reggae and funk. And some of the artists incorporate hip-hop -- for example, Zin on "Kanpe Sou Yon Bit" and Carimi on "Ayiti (Bang Bang)." So when all is said and done, the listener is exposed to a compilation that is diverse and unpredictable yet cohesive and focused. French Caribbean isn't as generous as other Putumayo compilations; the disc clocks in at around 47 minutes, and one wishes that Putumayo had provided another half-hour of material. Nonetheless, those who enjoyed Caribbean Party and Caribe! Caribe! should have no problem getting into French Caribbean as well.
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AllMusic Review by Alex Henderson