Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Shirati Jazz

  • Benga Beat [Carthage, 1987] B+

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Benga Beat [Carthage, 1987]
Benga is a vaguer term than the notes suggest, indicating any modern Kenyan dance-pop, not just Luo but Kamsa or Luhya or Kikuyu, that moves the light and rather folkish Kenyan guitar sound toward the big-time West African competition as it explores tribal rhythms of more meaning to Kenyans than to us. Without their guitarist-leader, self-crowned "King of Benga," Owino Misiani, Shirati Jazz recut some hits in London for this collection, a good thing in what is largely an ill-recorded singles music. They do sound light and rather folkish to me--delicate without juju's cosmopolitan intricacy, rhythmic without mbaqanga's urban drive. But in exotics, charm counts for plenty. B+