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SARABAH: Tales From the Flipside of Paradise

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Album Review

Over the course of the past 80 years, the music of the African diaspora has tended to get darker (reggae), harder (hip-hop), and more complex (jazz). The music of the African continent itself is wildly varied, of course, but especially across the sub-Saharan regions beats tend to be more gentle, melodies more joyful, and vocal harmonies more elaborate. Sister Fa is a rapper and singer from Senegal who has embraced influences from her local traditions as well as the sharp, streetwise beats of Western hip-hop and reggae. She sings in Wolof, Manding, Jola, and French, and recorded her first album in her adopted home of Berlin, where the international music scene has flourished during the last decade. Sarabah is a brilliant debut, filled with hard and funky beats that are nicely softened by Sister Fa's lovely singing and nimble rapping. "Seebou Yoon" puts a reggaeton beat and a sweet melody to work harmonizing hip-hop with Islam; "Hip Hop Yaw La Fal" and "Sister Fa La" both let some air into the musical texture while keeping things very funky with some fine turntablism; "Soldat" saunters into reggae territory, with lovely results. Sister Fa's voice is what holds everything together, even keeping lighter and slightly silly fare like "Hip Hop Rek" compelling and fun. It's rare that a hip-hop artist balances lightness, seriousness, funk, and message as successfully as this one does — especially the first time out.

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