Music News

Various Artists and Fela Kuti

We Americans can be awfully set in our ways. No matter how terrific music from other parts of the globe might be, lots of us like it better when it sounds familiar. Hence these two packages, which aim to make exotic sounds more accessible without destroying what's cool about them in the first place.

Putumayo tries this tack on a frequent basis, and all too often, the results are uninspiring. World Groove largely dodges such a pitfall by emphasizing dance-music flourishes. "Nogo," by Mali's Issa Bagayogo, is only one of several numbers that would work fine in a chill-out room. On The Underground Spiritual Game, remixer Chief Xcel, of Blackalicious fame, imposes a similar philosophy upon cuts left behind by the late Kuti, an acknowledged master of modern African music. On the likes of "Trouble Sleep Yanga Wake Am," Xcel levels out Kuti's rhythms rather than emphasizing the wild highs and lows that made his music so exciting.

If the songs here have been watered down somewhat, enough flavor remains to give receptive listeners a taste for the undiluted stuff. How many of them will be Americans remains to be seen.

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts