Afropop Worldwide

Joko (The Link) (Nonesuch)

Half a decade minding his own business in Dakar has flexed his fusion—every one of these tracks breathes, bends, follows flow. The synthmelt and fancy layering with which he once made nice now subject one-worlders' cosmic creature comforts to a specifically Senegalese technological elegance—and reality. The endlessly gorgeous "Birima" honors the elders with a melody for the ages, "Medemba" defends a beleaguered union boss. And even when he's testing world's most ductile ballad pipes you can feel him getting you ready to dance, dance, dance. A MINUS

Wanita (Indigo import)

Where an older younger generation might have equated musical self-definition with rock, this daughter of the Malian elite engages tradition in a culture where music is culture's engine, modernizing so subtly that Euro-American folkies will believe she's toning things down just for them. Her deepest innovations are in the shades of her willowy soprano, a delicate thing by the wailing standards of the female griots whose intonations she modulates—and whose ideology she injects with a female pride they won't admit, even praising useless drudges who can't procreate. Other times her moralism is stiffer, but her music never is. It's the image of an African voice bending neocolonialism to its own knowledge and needs. A MINUS

Surrendered (Columbia)
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Although I don't keep tabs on postpunk's favorite free saxophonist, this is much the most confident of the three albums I know. With virtuosity and ease, he and a quartet balanced by pianist Matthew Shipp naturalize the sturm und drang of the post-Coltrane '60s. It's got a pulse, it's got a voice, it's got some heads. It's got unflagging energy. So what's to be scared of? A little noise? A MINUS

Pick Hit

Songs From an American Movie: Vol. One: Learning How to Smile (Capitol)
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All doubts as to Art Alexakis's punk bona fides are hereby laid to rest—he doesn't have any. Instead he chooses to whup Dave Grohl, the jerk from the Verve Pipe, and if there's any justice Rob Thomas in postgrunge's Bryan Adams sweepstakes. The corn he indulges on this fondly detailed end-of-a-marriage song cycle has nothing to do with abstracted teen agony and everything with classic Garth Brooks, except that Garth never waxed nostalgic for the days he and his honey whiled away watching porn and eating Chinese. Laying on strings, horns, synths, and backup vocals to a fare-thee-well, it makes honest peace with a pop moment when honest pop is the toughest artistic challenge there is. Volume two will supposedly return to the guitar-o-rama of his roots—without any loss of principle, one trusts. A MINUS

South African Hip Hop (Stern's/Earthworks)

Where the Jo'burg disco of late apartheid was not-for-export schlock, this lowbrow party fodder, more "Jack Your Body" than "Bring the Noise," sounds like independence music. I'm not sure what makes it go. The southern African pulse, so much heavier on the four-on-the-floor than the equatorial polyrhythm? The entrepreneurial thrill of artist-owned labels? Township kids feeling like their own people? Dumb luck? All I know is that this compilation moves like one of those flukey dance albums that makes you keep on loving the same trick—electro riff plus raggaqanga bass plus southern African chant and chorus. Is it conscious, as they say? A little, sometimes—Arthur's "Kaffir" sure puts the kibosh on the K-word. Note, however, that the one that preaches "Together we are one under the sun" is entitled "Make Em Bounce." A MINUS

Dud of the Month

Afrika Wassa (Triloka/Gold Circle)
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"Making West African music accessible and enjoyable has always been Diop's goal," admits the wretched press release for this kora-tweedling WBAI host, as if the likes of—oh, you know the names, everyone down from Diop's onetime boss Youssou N'Dour—hadn't already created something powerfully new from the same idea. Diop targets the New Age folkie escapists milked by his producer, TV-soundtrack titan Brian Keane, and the result has all the tensile strength of vanilla pudding. Admittedly, he's not the only African to utter a sentiment like "We are all but flowers in the field/To nature's changing seasons we must yield/We only have but one season under the sun/We'd best take care before our time is done." But usually African homilies are starker—and even when they aren't, they sound starker. C

Additional Consumer News

HONORABLE MENTION: Ian Dury & the Blockheads, Live!: All the Best, Mate . . . (Music Club): December 1990—bloody lively for an oldies reunion ("Billericay Dickie," "Blockheads"); Fallou Dieng, Medina (Stern's Africa): hyperactive selection from mbalax thirtysomething's Senegal-only cassettes, which apparently peaked songwise in 1996 ("Koleuré ['96]," "Biri Biri," "Withiaxou"); Jimmie Dale Gilmore, One Endless Night (Windcharger/Rounder): not the standards album he has in him ("Mack the Knife," "Ripple"); Charles Douglas, The Lives of Charles Douglas (No. 6): into the great indie mother-drone, with Mama Moe Tucker at the helm ("Earlybird School," "Good Luck"); Spring Hill Jack, Disappeared (Thirsty Ear): trying their hand at lounge jazz, chamber oboe, soundtrack bombast, any sound that'll stick ("Trouble and Luck," "I Undid Myself"); Archers of Loaf, Seconds Before the Accident (Alias): not enough old stuff for the live overview they earned ("Web in Front," "Wrong"); North Mississippi Allstars, "Shake Hands With Shorty" (Tone-Cool): Allman Brothers as electric folk music ("K.C. Jones [On the Road Again]," "Po Black Maddie"); Rickie Lee Jones, It's Like This (Artemis): proof a girl can sing standards and chew gum at the same time ("Show Biz Kids," "On the Street Where You Live"); Roy Nathanson, Fire at Keaton's Bar & Grill (Six Degrees): the saloon of dreams goes up in smoke ("Bar Stool Paradise," "Jazz Night at Keaton's"); Steve Earle, Transcendental Blues (E-Squared/Artemis): if "transcendence is about being still long enough to know when it's time to move on," as he says, he should quit scratching himself ("Over Yonder [Jonathan's Song]," "I Can Wait"); Luke Vibert/BJ Cole, Stop the Panic (Astralwerks): lounge techno meets steel guitar, also bluegrass ("Swing Lite," "Hipalong Hop"); the Legendary Marvin Pontiac, Greatest Hits (Strange & Beautiful Music): John Lurie sings the blues and comes down with the cutes, both of which humanize him considerably ("I'm a Doggy," "Wanna Wanna").

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