various artists,
African Groove
(Putumayo, 2003)

Putumayo is definitely the label to look for if you are interested in world music. These people are experts at picking out tracks for compilation CDs. It does not seem to matter which sub-genre they are looking to promote, whether it is Latin, Asian, African, Caribbean or even lounge, they only select the cream of the crop. The tracks are combined in such a way that the music flows smoothly from tune to tune. Sounds from different countries are brought together complementing each other, expanding upon the musical experience as a whole. These are not your average compilation CDs where a few top songs take center stage while the rest should be sideshow at best.

African Groove is no exception to the superb collections I've come to expect from Putumayo. The 12 songs presented here dare you to sit in your seat. The tribal rhythms mixed with the modern styles of hip-hop and electronica transcend across cultural boundaries regardless if you understand the lyrics or not. In cases where you don't speak the language a song is performed in, the vocals, in my mind, are simply another instrument.

While most of the selections on African Groove are taken from an artist's prior work, there are a few tracks that are previously unreleased. One example is "Mokote" by Madeka, an Ivory Coast native with three albums under her belt and a captivating voice. As for "Mokote," there is something about the driving beat, wah-wah guitar, background funk and simple chorus that hooks you right away. I have to admit that this song has some French rap. If you are anything like me, you would probably agree that while French is a very pretty language when spoken, it sounds funny when one raps in French. In this rare case, I find myself grooving along instead of chuckling.

Another song that has some French (as well as English and native tongue) is "Vadzimu" by A Peace of Ebony. Alas, this group from Zimbabwe is no more. Fortunately, you can enjoy this cool song here. The group sings about how all Africans need to identify with their own unique culture and celebrate their heritage. In fact, the word "Peace" in the group's name stands for Positive Existence Allowing the Cultural Expression of Ebony.

I was a little taken aback when I first heard Kenya's Hardstone start out his track, "Uhiki (Pinye's Remix)," taking full advantage of vocal manipulations reminiscent of Cher's "Believe" from the late '90s. Now I find myself singing along with the English line "Hardstone enter the yard/Boy!/Put up your hand and you scream" despite the fact that I find self-promotion in one's songs to be a little trite. As "Uhiki" means "Wedding" and is about a marriage that was doomed from the start, I have to wonder if this is one of those times (like with the song "Teen Spirit" by Nirvana) where I really have no clue what the lyrics truly are, so I've made up my own.

African Groove is a fun CD. Other artists on the collection include Issa Bagayogo (Mali), Badenya Les Freres Coulibaly (Burkina Faso), Julien Jacob (Benin), Positive Black Soul (Senegal), Dady Mimbo (Cameroon), Thievery Corporation (USA), The Pleb (Senegal/Italy), African Rhythm Travellers (South Africa) and Ndumiso (South Africa). As Putumayo puts on the back of the album cover, this music is "guaranteed to make you feel good!" I can't argue with that!

- Rambles
written by Wil Owen
published 25 October 2003

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