Various Artists

Blackstars: Ghana's Hiplife Generation (Outhere)

The image of African music, as seen through American eyes, goes through phases. Right now we're in a retro moment: It would be easy to look at the deluge of compilation CDs (the three Nigeria Special volumes, Nigeria 70, and the Lagos All Routes and Lagos Chop Up sets) and conclude that (a) all African music comes from Nigeria, and (b) Africans stopped making music sometime in the late Seventies/early Eighties. But African music doesn't begin or end with funky reissues or the ultra-earnest singer-songwriters playing to the NPR and jam-band crowds the past few years.

In fact sub-Saharan Africa is a whirlwind of thoroughly modern pop scenes, full of musicians combining traditional forms and styles with electronic beats, rapping, and rhythms from across the globe. Ghana's contribution is "hiplife" — as the name indicates, it's a meeting point between highlife and hip-hop, but there are elements of dancehall, bhangra, and other genres tossed in. Black Stars' opening track, King Ayisoba's "Modern Ghanaians," features a two-stringed guitarlike instrument called the kolgo and three rappers spieling over a bhangralike beat. "Oldman Boogey RMX," by FBS (Function Boyz Squad) and guest rapper Tinny, is another killer — FBS member Yo'boy sounds like a cross between Busta Rhymes and Elephant Man, and the rhythm is almost manic. The faces of dozens of hiplife CDs decorate the inside pages of Black Stars' booklet. It's likely these are the only tracks American listeners will ever hear by any of these artists, though, so naturally they're heard in the context of U.S. hip-hop, to which they serve as a vibrant counterpoint. Who needs to bother with 50 Cent's stone-faced robo-pimp bullshit or Lil Wayne's pot-fogged solipsism when Tic Tac, Batman Samini, and Tinny are out there?

 
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