Critic's Choice

Born into a griot family of oral historians and master musicians, Moussa Kanoute hails from Senegal; in the small nation at the western-most tip of Africa's smiling coast, the average annual income of five hundred U.S. dollars certainly buys more peanuts than ivory. As his grandfather's apprentice, Kanoute learned the value of honoring his ancestors at an early age -- especially through the healing sounds of the kora. A harp-like instrument made from a calabash gourd covered with cow skin, the lap-held curio features 21 strings fashioned from fishing line (eleven for the left hand, ten for the right). When plucked by a virtuoso like Kanoute, the kora issues warm tones, rippling rhythms and fast, scalewise runs characteristic of flamenco. It also offers a glimpse of an ancient artifact that's been thrust into the digital age. During a rare appearance away from his beloved Dakar, Kanoute joins topflight keyboard-player and fellow West African Berenger Ouedrago (the Burkina Faso-based heir to Prince Edouard!) and California's REL-I on Friday, April 11, at the Soiled Dove for an ethno-musicologist's wet dream come true. Blending low-key folky styles with Afro-pop and majestic worldbeat strains, this self-annointed Unified Squad presents a unique brand of African reggae dancehall that's as versatile as the blues, as ebullient as the Mau-mau's heathen love Jah. Languid, streetwise and infectiously danceable, such energetic and happy sounds couldn't come at a better time.


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