Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Francis Bebey

  • Akwaaba [Original Music, 1984] B+
  • Nandola/With Love: Francis Bebey Works: 1963-1994 [Original Music, 1996] Neither
  • African Electronic Music 1975-1982 [Born Bad, 2012] A-

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Akwaaba [Original Music, 1984]
On the recordings of Paul Berliner and elsewhere I've always found the African thumb piano--mbira, kalimba, sanza--overly delicate, fragile as a music box. These experimental compositions, by a Camerounian musicologist who calls on a wide range of supplementary African instruments and techniques, are lithe and lovely. And when Bebey breaks into his subguttural chest voice you won't know whether to gasp or giggle. B+

Nandola/With Love: Francis Bebey Works: 1963-1994 [Original Music, 1996] Neither

African Electronic Music 1975-1982 [Born Bad, 2012]
I first encountered this genial Camerounian savant via his pioneering if romantic 1969 overview African Music: A People's Art. But though I knew from the book jacket that he'd worked for UNESCO and published novels, the albums that trickled my way--sanza exhibit, wan protest songs, retrospective miscellany--seemed too schematic musically. So I never grasped that this public intellectual was a successful creator of singing commercials and African hits until this conceptually cockamamy attempt to stir up the hipsterati by linking songs notable for their jingle quotient to electronica. Created on a primitive synthesizer in Paris, they're above all winning and catchy, their sonics almost as quaint as thumb piano by now. Though half are also on La Condition Masculine, which is generally deemed Bebey's best album, this selection is hookier from the just-released "New Track," whose subject is white starchy foods, to "The Coffee Cola Song," whose subject is the cash economy. Dieu merci, both are in English, which helps the French ones fit in--the instrumentals too. And "Divorce pygmee" and "Pygmy Love Song" have it both ways, clarifying between them the bemused respect with which this cosmopolitan Protestant regards his native continent's profusely musical peoples. A-