2007-12-30I’ve often felt that Youssou N’dour was holding back on his albums by being miserly with the soaring, extended phrases that showcase his voice and bristle the neck hairs. I chalked up the apparent stinginess as catering to the different tastes of a Senegalese audience rather than pandering to America’s insistence on thrills. I also figured that Africans were hearing something in the short, choppy melodies he favored that flew right over my head. But I’m hearing it now on Rokka Mi Rokka (Give and Take), his quirkiest and most engaging album in years. "Bajjan" (The Father's Sister) is tough to resist with its herky-jerky meshing of computer rhythms and sabar drumming, caffeinated vocals, and unstoppable drive -- not to mention bits of vocal acrobatics. "Baay Faal" boasts highly dramatic singing, starting off in a folkie mode with xalam 'banjo' and local percussion before detouring north into the desert with a handclap beat and a string section borrowed from Egyptian film music. It's a great release, and the icing on the cake is "Wake Up (It's Africa Calling)" a duet with Neneh Cherry in the mold of their 1994 radio-friendly "Seven Seconds." -- Bob Tarte
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