On her last album, Black Ivory Soul, Angélique Kidjo sang a duet with Dave Matthews, who later invited her to open for him on his 2001 American tour and introduced her to a whole new, mainstream audience. Most artists would have followed up that coup with something a bit more commercial. But since Kidjo has always gone her own way, her followup, Oyaya!, finds her exploring the African-rooted rhythms of the Caribbean with a collection of self-penned tunes based on the rhythms of plena, bomba, merengue, bolero, kompa, and cha-cha-cha.
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There isn't a weak track here, but several cuts stand out for both Kidjo's sassy vocals and the excellent musicianship of her backing band. "Macumba" is the kind of Cuban/Congolese fusion that's been driving dancers wild in Europe for decades, and features the sparkling fretwork of Dominic Kanza. "Dje Dje L'Aye" is a kompa with airy vocals and guitar by Jacob Desvarieux of zouk superstars Kassav', and is a textbook example of tropical swing. "Congoleo" is another gently swinging tune that combines calypso rhythms with a beautiful interplay between Kanza's soukous-style guitar and Abou Sylla's rippling balafon (African marimba). Kidjo's pop instincts have always been strong, though, so nothing here is hardcore enough to frighten off neophytes.