Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Konbit!: Burning Rhythms of Haiti [A&M, 1989]
Because Caribbean musicians use horns the way African farmers use cattle--not just as resources, but as measures of wealth--it took me six months to hear through the sonic givens on this inspired potpourri. The basic style is an unsurprising relative of zouk, which saxman Nemours Jean-Baptiste anticipated by decades in what he called compas (French) or konpa (Creole, or rather Kreyol). And by insisting on the same kind of variety and politics that have undone other world-beat compilations, conceptmaster Jonathan Demme and hands-on producer Fred Paul rescue theirs from UNESCO disco. Buoyant Jean-Baptiste songs from 1960 and 1957 lead and close, and in between we find not the usual indigenous hits but three specially commissioned songs, some agitprop, the Nevilles, and Haitian bands working out of New York, where their displaced countrymen have enough money to support bootstraps recording. Some tracks go for the congas, others build a tension that repays concentration, and it's a tribute to all concerned that you can't tell the new stuff without a scorecard--though not that the bilingual lyrics are cassette/CD only. A-