Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Papa Wemba: 1977-1997 [Sterns Africa, 2004]
I know just two tracks of 18, both from import albums; most of the first disc began its life as seven-inch vinyl. But beyond Franco, who bought vocalists in bulk, no one in soukous amassed a catalog of this strength in the '80s, much less the '90s. The audio is shrill at first, and the lead track's guitar is as crude as it got in Zaire--but also, how rock and roll, as exciting. Always conscious of country and city, Wemba has been the rare African to hold his own with synthesizers, yet homes in on two village chants. He deploys manly shout, girlish falsetto, gritty tenor, and mellow midrange to describe, explain, celebrate, ululate, sigh, cajole, declare his love, and state the facts. And ever since Zaiko Langa Langa, he's led one hell of a band or another. A