Monday, May 07, 2007

Andy Gill reviews "The Rough Guide to African Blues"

Apart from the Tinariwen-shaped hole at its heart, this is a fine anthology tracking the resurgent blues consciousness in African music. The emphasis on Saharan and West African forms means there's no room for Mahlathini, the Howlin' Wolf of South Africa, or Thomas Mapfumo, the conscience of Zimbabwe; but it does impose a stylistic congruence on the contributions, linking the Berber blues of Mariem Hassan and Niger's Etran Finatawa with the quietly moving manner of Nuru Kane, the Senegalese guitarist influenced by the gnawa music of Morocco. The US contributions are of dubious value: Corey Harris's attempt to return Skip James's "Special Rider Blues" to its African roots via the one-string fiddle of Ali Farka Touré is OK, but Bob Brozman's affected singing spoils his duet with kora maestro Djeli Moussa Diawara. Better, surely, to note the cultural correspondences between the continents, in which Boubacar Traoré's vocal serves as the equivalent of the "high lonesome" style of American country, and Oumou Sangaré's stirring, passionate approach makes her the African Bessie Smith.

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