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Exchange Rates and Record Crates: Expert Witness with Robert Christgau

The Dean goes global.

The self-proclaimed “Dean of American Rock Critics,” Robert Christgau was one of the pioneers of music criticism as we know it. He was the music editor at the Village Voice for almost four decades where he created the trusted annual Pazz & Jop Poll. He was one of the first mainstream critics to write about hip-hop and the only one to review Simon & Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Water with one word: “Melodic.” On top of his columns, he has published a number of books over his career including his autobiography, Going Into the City, which was released in 2015 to critical acclaim. He currently teaches at New York University. Every week, we publish Expert Witness, his long-running critical column. To read more about his career, read his welcome post; for four decades of critical reviews, check out his regularly updated website.

Mestre Cupijó e Seu Ritmo: Siriá (Analog Africa) Siriá is a couple-dancing hybrid in which the escaped maroons of equatorial Brazil adapted Amazonian rhythms to their own carnivalesque purposes. Punchy rather than flowing, it often generates the polka hop hinted at in chicha, ska, and occasionally cumbia. Now 80, alto sax specialist Cupijó is a second-generation multi-instrumentalist from the river town of Cametá who as a young man traveled further inland to learn and modernize the music of more remote settlements. Long a local fixture, he eventually had some hits with it, all of them collected here. If you know the above-mentioned styles you'll hear their echoes and also something new, playful, and unprecedented in Cupijó's rough, enthusiastic amalgam. What you won't hear is the samba, bossa nova, or tropicalia of the coast. Well, maybe some primal Tom Zé. Zé has never forgotten his inland roots. A MINUS

Senegambia Rebel (Voodoo Rebel) So a founder of Voodoo Rebel, an Italian label whose Afro-diasporic romance is summed up by its handle, spent a month in West Africa field-recording what he indicates were mostly rural and I infer were mostly human sounds, many not what is usually called musical. Then he sent the files to a bunch of non-African beatmaker-DJ-whatchamacallems unknown to me, although on handle alone I'm loving DJ Reaganomics, the only American identified as such, and Populous, whose eventful and not what I'd call danceable opener orchestrates crowd talk, sanza or balafon, hand drumming, and bass thrums of undetermined origin into a seductive environmental dub that sets a mood that welcomes all beats, including more conventional ones. Try Capibara's "15," where bass thrums give way to treated chanting. Or Ckrono and Slesh's "Serere," electrobeats to birdy sounds to xyly sounds and yes that is a melodic hook. Fact is, I enjoy every one of the nine, which taken together don't last 40 minutes including Umeme Afrorave's danceable 7:27 closer. Schlock and good taste have a way of creeping into Afro-Euro fusion. That never happens here. A MINUS

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Sonido Gallo Negro: Sendero Mistico (Glitterbeat) Mexico City youths adapt Peruvian cumbia to a mystical vision that has more Martin Denny in it than they know ("El Ventarron," "La Patrona") **

Son Palenque: Afro-Colombian Sound Modernizers (Vampi Soul) Palenques are where Colombian escaped slaves reclaimed their lives with, among other things, call-and-response rhythm chants that sound great at first but do get repetitive ("Cumbia Africana," "Unye Unye") **

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