Various Artists

The Music in My Head
(Stern's Africa)

Personally, I've never had much of a taste for Senegalese pop music. Chalk it up to the fact that, compared to South African mbaqanga or Nigerian highlife, most West African playing seemed to my ears too loose, too rangy, too much like the milquetoast "world music" peddled by Peter Gabriel, Micky Hart and their ilk. Naturally, therefore, I was bit chagrined to find that this Stern's comp, which promises "indispensable classics and unknown gems from the golden age of Afropop," turned out to be a virtual Senegalese showcase, including two cuts featuring N'Dour himself.

So how do I explain my enthusiastic attraction to almost every song here? I give credit to the aesthetic singlemindedness of Mark Hudson, who complied the record as a soundtrack for his novel of the same name. That singlemindedness, whether on purpose or by chance, results here in a cohesive, powerful groove and a raw exuberance from start to finish that's homogenized out of much of the Senegalese music prepared for Western ears. The result is seamless flow under and around which unknowns like Etoile 2000 and Gestu de Dakar bump, churn, blare and more than hold their own against N'Dour's star power, and newer material arises almost imperceptibly from significantly older tracks.

For those who only know West African pop in its eviscerated Gabriel-WOMAD form, The Music in My Head is a glimpse past Real World into the real world.

Rating: 9

Rob Brookman


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