Movement and Polyrhythm in Africa: Expert Witness with Robert Christgau

The Dean of American Rock Critics takes on records from Les Amazones d'Afrique, Oumou Sangaré, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, and Ibibio Sound Machine.

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May 12 2017, 4:30pm

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 six books, including his 2015 autobiography, Going Into the City . 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.

Les Amazones d'Afrique: République Amazone (RealWorld) Conceived by the great singers Oumou Sangaré, Mariam Doumbia, and Mamani Keita, then joined by the dynamite organizer Angelique Kidjo after Sangaré withdrew, this loose feminist alliance out of Francophone West Africa feels more like a movement than any other stab at musical do-gooding you can name. I don't understand the lyrics, including the scattered English ones said to be in here somewhere. But the thorough notes articulate the ideology they share, which calls out sexist violence while asking men to back them up where it could just tell them to go fuck themselves. The particulars of the vocal attack differ, as voices will. But empowered by a rock-informed groove overseen by French-Irish Mbongwana Star producer Liam Farrell, the music is unbowed and declarative as it subordinates squarely rousing Euro-America to polyrhthmically engaged Africa—an Africa represented by Panzi Hospital in southern Congo, where 200 of the 350 beds go to rape survivors. A MINUS

Oumou Sangaré: Mogoya (No Format) Backed by an electro-friendly French boutique label with a specialty in Afro-Euro interaction and two welcome Mamani Keita CDs in its kit, the first album in eight years from Africa's premier female singer targets a boutique audience: non-Malians who've admired the music of this humane, well-off feminist for decades, among them my wife, who long ago wrote that "even when the liner notes tell me that Sangare is being ironic, I just hear compassion." But admiration doesn't generate the engagement I might be freed up for if just one of the Bambara lyrics indicated how hellish a Mali wrecked by Islamist inhumanity and French passivity has become since Sangaré last recorded. Instead I'll have to settle for Guimba Kouyate's excoriating guitar on "Djoukourou," Ludovic Bruni's disruptive guitar on "Yere Faga," and synthscaper Clément Petit's spooky atmospherics on "Mogoya" itself. B PLUS

Ladysmith Black Mambazo: Walking in the Footsteps of Our Fathers (self-released) Although no angel, their paterfamilias sang more angelically than any of his heirs, who opt in his absence for practical songs about Christian agape and parliamentary democracy ("Phalamende," "Mina Kangivumanga") ***

Ibibio Sound Machine: Uyai (Merge) Londoner juices African rhythms with electro arrangements while dissing Boko Haram in her Nigerian-born parents' native Ibibio ("Give Me a Reason," "The Pot Is on Fire") **

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