I am definitely not a fan of reggae…except…well, Putumayo put this out, and I'll listen to anything they issue. Thus, I was easily captured by the frequently modernist interpretations contained on the disc, a celebration of Bob Marley's 64th birthday. A melodious lushness here harks back to what attracted me and a bunch of Baby Boomers to Osibisa and other African and Africa-oriented groups in the 70s, then later to Ladysmith Black Mambazo and similar ensembles of recenter days. The performers on African Reggae were gathered up from various parts of that continent and often sing in native dialect, which makes the attraction all the more fascinating, especially in cuts like Bingui Jaa Jammy's Congo Natty.
Nino Galissa's Krebo Cheo carries a great Donald Byrd-ish horn section and radiant backing vocals atop Galissa's friendly encanting, while Kwame Bediako's Steppin' Into Zion reminds me of Taj Mahal blended into classic reggae—lazy and bluesy, a very patriarchal sound steeped in olden ways before the style itself or even ska, dredging up old folk roots. Then Ba Cissoko & Tiken Jah Fakoly draw in a bit of Eno, Talking Heads, European folk, and highly charged African beats to issue On Veut Se Marier, an infectiously forward-looking song with catchy polyrhythms.
And all of that is just the beginning.
Okay, okay, maybe I can be a reggae fan. This CD convinced me I obviously missed something all these years, even if I did kinda dig some of Black Uhuru's work, but if you're a fan of the style, you'll find no end of reasons to catch this extremely vivacious anthology of killer cuts. Likewise, be thou a student of jazz and blues, then African Reggae amply illustrates how the mode led to both, calling from the old country and its distinctive ways. And, as usual, as if further convincing were needed, the engineering is absolutely top-drawer, as all the label's releases are, adding a sensual dimension often going wanting in a good deal of reggae otherwise.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2009, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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