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Café noir

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Album Review

About seven years ago, Congolese guitarist Papa Noel visited Cuba for the first time. It was a deeply emotional experience for him, because Cuban music had been hugely popular in the Congo of his youth and it was the music that his mother played for him at home as a child. That experience led to Noel becoming one of the major players in a Congolese rhumba revival in his home country, and led also to the Cuba-Congo musical summit meeting documented on this joyful, gorgeous album, Cafe Noir, The music is unbelievably danceable with ever being aggressively funky, or really, aggressively anything. The rhythms pile up in layers until they achieve an irresistible combination of complexity and earthiness. The horn arrangements are sometimes astoundingly pretty (notice them in particular on "Africa Mokili Mobimba") as are the vocal harmonies (notice them in particular on "Democratic") and there are moments when the groove seems completely unbound by gravity, as on the charmingly light "Soleil." Almost every track on this album is a complete joy — only the harmonically static "Sandokan" and the slightly too self-referential "Soukous Son" fail to really take flight. Very highly recommended overall.


Genre: Africa

Years Active: '80s, '90s, '00s

One of the most important members of Franco's legendary OK Jazz band, guitarist Papa Noel's quick-fingered virtuosity and light, airy touch made him a major figure in the music of Zaire (later the Democratic Republic of Congo). Born Noel Nedule circa 1941, Papa Noel grew up in Brazzaville in the Republic of Congo (the country adjacent to what became Zaire), and learned to play the guitar by copying the Afro-Cuban-derived rumba music that was becoming popular in the region. In 1957, at the age of...
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Café noir, Papá Noel
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