Samputu

Testimony from Rwanda

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Rwandan Samputu won an African Kora award in 2003 as the Most Promising Male Artist from Africa, and on the evidence of this album, recorded in the U.S. (where he now lives), it's easy to understand why. He can move smoothly from the traditional 5/8 dance music of his native land to sounds that have more to do with soul, gospel, and even a rough and ready soukous/rumba blend without missing a beat. At the core of the record is his experience during the horrendous 1994 massacres in Rwanda (he lost six members of his family); but instead of revenge, this is an album of healing. That's evident in the lovely "Twararutashaye," about returning refugees, with its lovely swooping melodies, and on the livelier "Aliokoka," where Congolese rumba peeks up its head. The aching "Mana Wari Uri He?," a gentle acoustic ballad, wonders just what could have happened in 1994, while the more soulful "Karame Mwana," with its gospel-ish touches, looks ahead to a future for the children. Samputu is the undoubted star of the show, but much of the credit here has to go to the wonderfully versatile guitar talents of Aron Niyitunga, whose bluesy work on "Migabo" is a model of economy and emotion. The more traditional material is equally strong, but the album's centerpiece is "Ten Years Remembering," written to commemorate the anniversary of the massacres, and presented in a band version where Samputu's mellifluous voice is so full of pain, and also a cappella, with layers of vocals for a lusher, radically different sound. This man has a great future.

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