Various artists

Ever since the album Buena Vista Social Club was released, Afro-Cuban music has been on the radar of mainstream trendspotters both old and young. But the majority of new releases and re-releases since then have concentrated on the Caribbean side of the equation (with the possible exception of Senegal's Orchestre Baobab), to the detriment of the motherland whose cultural traditions inspired BVSC in the first place. After being introduced to the rumba in the Forties, the deep, dark jungle of equatorial Africa adapted its syncopated rhythms to its own musical tradition over the next decade. The results, as collected here, are positively sublime, with all the foundational gravitas of a Robert Johnson box set. Mainly consisting of rumbas but also containing polka pikes, beguines, and traditional folkloric songs, this two-CD set rarely fails to amaze the ears. The melodic cadences, the sinuous grooves, the sense of primordial Congolese rhythm are all here ... and then some. Sound quality could perhaps be better by today's digitized standards, but considering the vintage (and relative scarcity) of the source material, this set is an easy one to recommend not only to the world music or Afrobeat fan, but also to the folk music junkie. — Eric K. Arnold

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Eric K. Arnold