African music star Youssou N’Dour returns with an ear friendly Afropop album titled History. N’Dour combines pop hooks, easy listening smooth saxophone, English-language R&B, soulful vocal harmonies and West African beats.
History includes tributes to Nigerian drummer Babatunde Olatunji and Senegalese bassist Habib Faye. “Habib Faye was my friend, bassist, and music director for almost twenty years.” N’Dour recollects. “Together we created many songs.”
BBC London DJ Charlie Gillett has, as they say, done it again. The latest in his annual series of world music compilations is two CDs worth of tracks that are each winners in their own right, each contributing to the fact that the whole thing is a collective winner.
Gillett has a knack for picking what’s likely to prick up the ears of newcomers to world music as well as having a good sense of what possibly jaded aficionados will want to hear. Thus we get a corking good mix of traditional music with progressive, unplugged with plugged and familiar artists (Oliver Mtukudzi, Mariza, Youssou N’Dour, Ali Farka Toure & Toumani Diabate, Lhasa) with those who are likely less so (Laye Sow, Dead Combo, Ivan Kupala, The Chehade Brothers).
Listening to these discs not only clues one in on what’s happening musically in the 28 countries represented, but what they glean from each other. You’re just as likely to hear something that’s, say, recognizably Senegalese, Brazilian or Russian as you are to hear techno stirred into traditional and collaborators from different countries (or even different continents) mixing it up).
Years of spinning music on the radio has given Gillett a shrewd sense of pacing and contrast, so transitions between tracks and styles manage not to be too jarring and can heighten appreciation of previously heard material. I was not, for example, very impressed with the recent CD by Romania’s Gypsy/techno Shukar Collective, though hearing one song from it amid the twists and turns of a larger melting pot was decidedly more pleasant. But no matter how this compilation washes over you, rest assured that a globetrotting sonic adventure of the highest order awaits.