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The African by Tiken Jah Fakoly

The African by Tiken Jah Fakoly

The African by Tiken Jah Fakoly

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Not the Ivory Coast reggae star’s best work, but hard-hitting nonetheless.

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The African by Tiken Jah Fakoly

Africa boasts a fair number of reggae stars, and I tend to think of them in regional terms (though the recent death of South Africa’s Lucky Dube certainly impacted the whole genre). As far as West African reggae goes, Alpha Blondy remains the standard-setter. Even so, Tiken Jah Fakoly- who, like Blondy, hails from Ivory Coast -is certainly a force to be reckoned with. The title of his latest The African, strongly suggests a homeland-centric approach and such a suggestion largely proves to be correct. With its blazing horns, diaspora shout-outs, hard rhythmic undercurrent and unmistakable “Jah Rastafari” name-drop among its Francophone lyrics, the opening title track is a true scorcher. And elsewhere on the CD, the sounds of such distinctly West African instruments as the balafon, kora and djembe can be heard adding decorative touches to already strong songs such as the chugging “Ayebada” and the lament of “Soldier” (further boosted by English-language vocals from Akon).

There are weak moments, though: an almost whimsical blues feel undercuts the serious theme of “Non a L’Excision (No to Circumcision)” and the rock arrangement on “Gauche Droite (Left Right)” throws the whole flow of the disc out of whack toward the end (I keep thinking how great it would have sounded done in a ska style). Vocally, Fakoly’s combination of dry authority and precise phrasing is spot-on, so in terms of singing he handily delivers. That fact, coupled with the majority of memorable tracks, is enough to make this disc recommendable. It’s not killer all the way through, but that ought not stop you from picking it up.

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