First of all, I'll listen to anything with Ladysmith Black Mambazo, and they have the lead-off spot here, so that's already 30 points to the good. African Dreamland is another gorgeous collection of lullabye music from the people who brought us the fetchingly mellifluous Down at the Sea Hotel, a truly soothing collection of kids' music that will readily bring abundant smiles and blissful reverie to children 30-90 years of age as well. Every cut in this new gatherum, though, is performed in the native languages by minstrels and chanteuses possessed of extraordinarily sensitive gestures and intonations.
Samite, for instance, is an ensemble highly kindred to Ladysmith, and Chiwoniso's cut, Use Chime, carries delicate refrains of Kate Bush. Though each track on this CD is pristine, crystal clear and lovingly produced with a masterful hand, there isn't a hint of over-production. To the contrary, less is strikingly more with such things and African Dreamland manages to marry folk traditions with nocturnes and faintly adagioed airs for a quietly beautiful testament to the power of ways old and new, something like the best of, say, Suzanne Vega, Marc Cohn, or David Wilcox in their more meditative ventures. There is, however, in African musics a taste and sense more South American than North, more Egberto Gismonti-ish than Richie Havens-esque. Native instruments aid this environment to no small degree but don't explain it all. The teaming of Toumani Diabate and Ballake Sissoko on an instrumental deep into the album is illustrative of this claim. Though a distillation of the new and old, it retains a vibrancy unique to its genesis, its birthland, that cannot be shed through concessions to influences from without.
Perhaps most striking amidst all this is Tete Alhinho's Sao Horas de Dormir, breathtakingly Western in its sonorities, cadence, intonation, and recitation. More than any other song, it cuts across all borders. When the children's chorus joins her, the tune gains a dimension of endearment achingly sweet. The harmonica-ish wind instrument used for accompaniment (I can't cite the axe's proper name, as the damnable promo copy was frustratingly non-informative) aptly embodies the American South, Italian and Balkan accordians, even Pruvian panpipes failntly, and various other global cousins, reminding the listener that though cultures may provide exhilarating differences, they just as easily tell us of our commonalities in art and emotion.
As versus Sea Hotel's gratifying near-hour length, African Dreamland is extremely disappointing in being only barely a half-hour. Who do these guys think they are, short shrifting such superb music thusly? Were the materials not so damnably scintillating, I'd have half a mind to fire off an acerbic retort…that is, if I could wipe this ethereal grin of contentment off my mug. Ah well, sometimes you eat the bear, sometimes the bear eats you, and sometimes you both bed down in blankets of warm eiderdown with a cup of mulled cider, marshmallows, and honey floating into your ears.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
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