Gilberto Gil / Kaya N'Gan Daya
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Gilberto Gil
Kaya N'Gan Daya
Warner Brasil (

cd cover Brazilian music legend Gilberto Gil has long cited Bob Marley as an influence, performing Marley songs in concert and giving a reggae lilt to a fair number of his own compositions. Speculation about Gil putting out an entire album of Marley covers has been on the front and back burners for several years, and now that such an album has finally emerged, questions about it being worth the wait (and worth the bother) can be addressed. There's no shortage of people for whom reggae begins and ends with Bob Marley, and many of the songs Gil has chosen to cover show why Marley's legacy has persevered. Marley took a musical form that many perceive as one-dimensional and used it to create songs that were, perhaps above all else, accessible. They were songs of love, war and all points in between, and Gil is able to make them so very much his own because of the universal concerns they already spoke of with such simple eloquence. Also, Gil being such a formidable talent in his own right, he succeeds in altering the songs to such a degree that the end result is a generous helping of Marley tunes faithful to the originals without seeking to imitate their every nuance.

The selection is broad, if a bit on the predictable side, and lighter fare such as "Three Little Birds," "Waiting In Vain" and "Easy Skanking" mixes nicely with the more fiery sounds of "Rebel Music (3 O'clock Road Block)," "Buffalo Soldier" and "Could You Be Loved." In the years leading up to this project, Gil's stated intention was to "Brazilianize" the songs to a degree, and he has done so admirably. Throughout the discs the reggae rhythms are festooned with the sounds of cuicas, berimbaus, forro-style accordions and the sort of percussion you'd hear in Bahia rather than Jamaica. And where many reggae songs emphasize their inner essence by inserting dub passages, Gil is more likely to do it by breaking things down to some high-end combination of voices, percussion and lead instruments. This approach is heard on "One Drop" and elsewhere, giving many moments a wonderful patchwork quality. Note also how "Three Little Birds" begins with the feel of a tune being picked out on someone's back porch or the way the title track swings like something out of a joyous Brazilian block party, and the combination of familiarity and reinterpretation that the whole album seems to strive for is evident.

Vocally, Gil's usual grace and grit alternate with his frequent trips into falsetto territory, sometimes sounding oddly similar to Marley's singing, sometimes going engagingly in a different direction entirely. A few songs lay down lyrics in Portuguese (though only the version of "Lively Up Yourself" does so all the way through) and such liberties work just as well as when the tunes closely stick to the feel of the originals ("Rebel Music," "Them Belly Full"). The album includes guest appearances by the I-Three and Sly and Robbie, with Marley's former trio of background harmonizers displaying the same sort of sparkle as in their heyday. If all that's not enough, there's also a Gil original, "Table Tennis Table," which takes an oddly wise look at a game that was a favorite of Marley's. Kaya N'Gan Daya proves not only worth the wait and bother but worth spending your money on. - Tom Orr


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