Afropop Worldwide

Once or twice a year I spend a few weeks comparing and contrasting the latest cache of Afropop, but rarely do so many good ones fall into place simultaneously. I don't promise there aren't more in store, either. Still, this should hold you.

Private Suit (Palomine)

Crisply songful after years of feedback and drone, it's Carol Van Dyk-not-Dijk and her backup band. About time, too—not because there's anything wrong with feedback or drone, but because neither should preclude songs when you proffer yourself as a pensive woman who takes the occasional Tylenol and deserves someone she can love back. "Unsound" is their most clearly irresistible ever, and the aural nimbi that surround or trail after the others never obscure Van Dyk's lines of thought. A MINUS

Lone Star: The Best of Freddy Fender (Music Club)
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Fender's catalog will always be a mess—because he recorded too much, because Huey Meaux will license to anyone, because no one will ever compile his deeply felt "How Much Is That Doggie in the Window," because his "Junko Partner" has gone the way of all dope legends. Dot/MCA's The Best of Freddy Fender accesses his late-'70s country-chart phase, whereas this best, while prudently providing alternate takes of "Wasted Days and Wasted Nights" and "Before the Next Teardrop Falls," lovingly samples the Meaux-produced rest. Included are a regional rock and roll hit from before his just-past-21 1960 drug bust, a creaky Johnny Ace cover, a rollicking "Fannie Mae," a circa-1980 remake of the Who's "Squeeze Box," and a "Chokin' Kind" in which Fender ignores the title apostrophe and sings "If you don't like the peaches walk on by the tree" as if Shakespeare had written it just for him. Though Fender's tenor is sharp rather than mellow, the closest analogy is Aaron Neville, who even when he was good was less innocent, who remains more spiritual if less sublime, and who doesn't break into Spanish for his supper. A MINUS

The Very Best of Abdullah Ibrahim (Music Club)
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Cape Town-born pianist Dollar Brand won Down Beat polls in the '60s, when his idols Monk and Ellington were still active, because beneath his enticing fusion of modernist ambition and African authenticity he had at his disposal a store of simple tunes and beats Americans had never experienced firsthand. These later recordings, which begin with his second exile in 1976 and continue through the defeat of apartheid, no longer sound exotic—1985's "Mandela" we can now hear as pure township jazz, a jaunty classic put through its paces by a horn section featuring Carlos Ward's alto and Ricky Ford's tenor. I mention those names in part because the notes neglect to; Ibrahim couldn't have made his impact without American sidemen and frontmen feeling along with him, as several of the solo pieces here bear out. Nevertheless, the fusion was his idea, and his prophecy. After all, what young jazzman today would turn up his nose at the history encapsulated in a jaunty tune? A MINUS

(Stern's Africa)

I doubt I would have gotten this without having scarfed down compiler Banning Eyre's eponymous book about his seven-month stay in Bamako studying guitar with Rail Band headman and CD centerpiece Djelimady Tounkara. Mixing home- and street-recorded tape with commercial releases by the renowned and obscure Malians who populate his memoir, Eyre thinks like a guitarist and induces us to hear like one—Oumou Sangare and Habib Koite tracks I'd barely noticed spring to life in this context. The Music in My Head it's not. But Eyre's book is so much better than Mark Hudson's it could suck you in. B PLUS

The Ecleftic (Columbia)
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Last time he merely claimed African diaspora. Here he casts his net wide enough to snare all of pop if it'll have him, as in "Kenny Rogers-Pharoahe Monch Dub Plate," featuring live appearances by both luminaries, or the pot song illustrating the proposition that if hip-hop is his wife, the guitar is his mistress. He sings roughly but warmly, and makes up as many hooks as he samples, a ploy I'm glad he can afford—one more way to mix things up. His obligatory shout-outs to the hood reject thuggism as good-humoredly as his voluntary testimonial for the red-light district rejects moralism. Clef is obviously bitterer than he lets on about the respect he doesn't get. That he keeps it to himself is the essence of an appeal that tops any schoolmarm's I can think of. A MINUS

Bambay Gueej (World Circuit/Nonesuch)
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Senegalese out of Burkina Faso, Lô plays traps, wears dreads, quotes Fela, and names as his favorite musician Orchestra Aragon flutist Richard Egües, who takes the album-opening guajira home. Better equipped to roughen a croon than sweeten a shout, he's not quite the singer his wide-flung admirers say he is. But with Pee Wee Ellis arranging hornmen who include easy-swinging permanent saxophonist Thierno Kouyate, the pan-Africanism never sounds forced on what remains a studio creation even though Lô's band drives every cut. A MINUS

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