Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Sam Chege

  • Kickin' Kikuyu-Style [Original Music, 1996] A-

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Kickin' Kikuyu-Style [Original Music, 1996]
A Kenyan music journalist whose shopkeeper parents struggled to send him to college, Chege recorded these 12 unassuming songs in Nairobi with session men off the street and backup singers from the university. Although he reports significant sales, his profits haven't cut his straight career off at the pass--he's now studying at Iowa. So this collection is more Afropop in intent than in fact, and while we can't call it Afrosemipop, its self-consciously recombinant formalism--mixing, Chege reports, Swahili taarab, South African kwela, and Congolese soukous over Kenyan benga, tingeing Kikuyu vocal technique with "the poetic intonations of North Africa"--is more Neil Tennant than Sam Mangwana. Credit its irresistible tune appeal to the liquid tonal patterns of the underrecorded Kikuyu language. Fleshed out with a brightness, quickness, and rhythmic complexity absent from the classic folkish Afropop it superficially recalls, this appeal isn't just rare, it's unique. Sweet, cheerful, full of fun--at times almost a dream of happy happy. Yeah sure. Song subjects include suicide, domestic violence, and trading love in on money. A-