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Les Génies Vous Parlent

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Album Review

The Ivory Coast-based Meiway became a mid-'90s sensation in French-speaking West Africa with a high-energy youth music driven by drums and keyboards that's kinduva zouk-soukous-makossa mix he calls zoblazo. The use of drum programming, often mixed with live drums, sometimes gives the music an unexpected soca feel, but this is an African generation that grew up with programmed beats, rock guitar solos, and synth sound effects, and they're used to cannily inserting savvy sonic touches in the upbeat arrangements. It's a strong, well-crafted debut disc with most of the lyrics dealing with social themes with a positive thrust — "Gawa," for instance, criticizes city residents for putting down as hicks the country folks whose farms provide them with food, and "Miss Tassaba" salutes the "true African woman" whose body doesn't fit the top model formula but doesn't care. The title track works off zouk drums, extended melodies, and a female backing chorus — its Pan-African unity call also surfaces in a cover of Bob Marley's "Africa Unite." Soukous creeps in on "Apocalypse...Non" with rowdy rock guitars to close, while "Ma Folie" is sprightly soukous-zouk, with lyrics about preferring a lunatic asylum to the "prison of society" in contrast to the bright music. "Acole" smoothly shifts through its various paces (true for most of the songs here) with feathery guitar melodies floating through and horns adding weight in carefully chosen spots. "Africa Unite" stays fairly faithful to the melody and English lyrics, but it's not reggae with its racehorse tempo and drums rat-a-tatting away underneath. That's probably best, since things drag when the tempo drops on the martial ballad "Ewoule" or as gentle acoustic guitar and melancholy horns play during "Labadi Beach." "Miss Tassaba" is full without being too busy (something else that's true on much of the disc) and "Mbalax Groove" starts with a near-bagpipes synth sound (huh?) before the drums kick in on this not half-bad nod to the Senegalese sound. This could easily be cringe-inducing, as could the weird cocktail jazz piano flourishes ending "Africa Unite" or the quasi-rap vocal mixed with synth pomp on "Le Futur," but Meiway and company basically pull such things off. Meiway himself is a good singer, albeit one with a somewhat thin voice, and the assured, vital music on Les Genies Vous Parlent shows he has a good grasp of what he wants to do. While it probably won't change your life, it's very enjoyable and danceable, and a good sign there's fresh, viable music coming out of French-speaking West Africa, even though the veterans with 20 or 30 years of music-making under their belts still command the lion's share of attention in the international sphere.

Les Génies Vous Parlent, Meiway
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