Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Samba Mapangala & Orchestre Virunga: Ujumbe [Sterns/Earthworks, 2001]
Cover claims to the contrary, not "fiery stuff"--not by the hyped-up standards of the soukous this eternal exile has now outlasted. That's why it's special, and that's why it's good. Everywhere he's gone, from Matadi to Kinshasa to Kampala to Nairobi to Paris to his safe Maryland home, Mapangala has brought along a tenor as sweet as a licked frenum and a tune sense that knows what it wants--no wonder he found the sway of Swahili swing so amenable. Here he gathers about him a different set of Afro-Parisian hotshots than on his last visit, except for, no stupe he, the two standouts: guitarist Caien Madoka and trap drummer Komba Bellow Mafwalo. "It is bad to criticize people behind their back, especially when they have tried to help you," one trot reads, but who cares? The music carries any message of tolerance you care to verbalize. A-