Kaleta Jaa (Kaleta Music, 2003)
West African rhythms mixed with thumping disco beats and lots of programming, sadly has become the latest trend. This African pop extracts African dialects and styles then distills these elements in a tepid atmosphere of electronic drums and keyboards. Front man and masked musician Kaleta, born in the Republic of Benin and a veteran of the West African music community, has fallen into the trap of marrying modern technology with the musical heart of West Africa. Kaleta who leads the band with the same name sings in a variety of languages including Yoruba (Nigeria), Fon, Goun (Benin), Eur (Toga) as well as, French and English. He has also mastered various genres of music such as reggae, R & B, high-life, African JuJu and rock, while proving his prowess on guitar, percussion and vocals. And yet, despite all Kaleta’s talent, this CD fails to excite me.Kaleta isn’t the first West African musician to don a mask. Nigerian super star Lagbaja of the group with the same name also wears a mask, but for political reasons. And Lagbaja fronts a high octane group that is heavy on polyphonic rhythms played on African percussion, a hot and heavy horn section as well as, delicious call & response vocals. And this is still considered African pop. Kaleta who has performed with and recorded albums for Nigerian’s King Sunny Ade, and the Afro-Beat Fela Kuti, relies too heavily on American influences and he falls under the weight of an alien culture (he resides in New York). While he can master West African styles of music, his songs on Kaleta Jaa are clogged with electronic drumbeats, cheesy synthesizer and rock guitar solos that feel out of place.
On occasion, a hint of African percussion peaks through along with call & response vocals such as on the ending of the song, Magicien and the vocal tracks on Kaleta-Soukous come across as the most authentic music on this CD. I don’t wish to spoil Kaleta’s celebratory mood with my hunger for more ritualistic African music, but if I wanted to hear disco beats I could just turn on any commercial radio station. I want to hear African percussion in its purist form and maybe I am a lone wolf crying in the wilderness, but I will keep howling until my needs are met.