New Recordings: M.I.A., William Onyeabor, Omar Souleyman
Ratings: **** Excellent, *** Good, ** Fair, * Poor
- Dan DeLuca
Who Is William Onyeabor?
(Luaka Bop ***1/2)
In the late 1970s to mid-1980s, William Onyeabor, a Nigerian electro-funk synthesist, interwove the sounds of Fela Anikulapo Kuti and Parliament-Funkadelic in highly charged, hypnotic African dance-floor successes that have long been out of print. Luaka Bop, the label formed by David Byrne, reignites the psychedelic-funk series that has previously unearthed releases by Shuggie Otis and Tim Maia with this nine-track, 1-hour-15-minute kinetic marvel, which shimmers and shakes with improvisational glee, while putting its message across with moral fervor. "One day you will be lying dead," Onyeabor and crew chant repeatedly to get a seize-the-day point across in "Something You Will Never Forget"; elsewhere, he sternly advises potential soul-sellers that "No money can buy good name." The album title refers to the mystery surrounding Onyeabor himself, who may have become a born-again Christian and sworn off funk for good, or perhaps moved to the Soviet Union in the 1980s to become a cinematographer. Whoever he is, the music he once made is electrifying.
- Dan DeLuca
(Ribbon Music ***1/2)
In Wenu Wenu, his first studio album in a 20-year career (as opposed to the wedding halls where he plies his trade), gruff Syrian vocalist Omar Souleyman maintains the raw dignity of his culture's indigenous line-dance folk music, while embracing nu-electronica. His music for social gatherings is spare, hypnotic, and driven by cheap drum machines, so, in this move to the studio, it's bracing to hear Souleyman's voice clearly, rather than through his usual din of feedback and tinny rhythms. The cheesy drums and chintzy '80s horn-emulating synths are there, on lengthy songs such as the title track and the glossy street-funk of "Khattaba." They just sound hotter against Souleyman's vocals and prayerful poetry. Aiding the warm, weary vocalist on his mission to spread dabke, his take on traditional Syrian ceremonial dance music, is pitch-bending keyboardist Rizan Sa'id and avant-house music producer Kieran Hebden (Four Tet). On tracks such as "Yagbuni," this pair act as a sympathetic sounding board for Souleyman's passionate singing.
- A.D. Amorosi
In Stores Tuesday
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Celine Dion, Loved Me Back To Life
Avril Lavigne, Avril Lavigne
James Blunt, Moon Landing