Touré Kunda

Toubab Bi

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After several albums recorded for Bill Laswell's Celluloid label, the Senegalese band (at this point a trio) began recording for the Paris-based Trema. Toubab Bi was the first and signaled something of a transition to a more accessible pop-tinged format as they and their producers attempted to infiltrate the European world music scene. While the basic song structures tended to remain true to their previous work, there is, to some tastes, an excess of studio production and, in general, a rather slick veneer that includes cheesy synthesizer work, pedestrian horn charts, and less than subtle backbeats. Still, the essential strength and beauty of many of their compositions, like the surging "Nagaana," refuse to buckle under, no matter how much sonic dross is piled atop them. Voices may be laden with echo treatments, but they still retain the poignancy, joy, and occasional anguish of their roots. Likewise, the title cut has an irresistible theme that insists on carrying its message, whatever syrupy synth chords or heavy metal guitar thrashes are laid in its way. Whether one considers this recording a success will certainly depend on the listener's tolerance for unnecessary ornamentation, but if that particular storm can be weathered, and it's not easy, there's a good bit of value here and enough of the "real" Touré Kunda to make the effort worthwhile.

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