African Pearls: Cote D'Ivoire: West African Crossroads
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Various Artists
African Pearls: Cote D'Ivoire: West African Crossroads
Syllart (France)

For a brief period in the 1970s, Cote d'Ivoire's capital, Abidjan, attracted entrepreneurs, degree holders, musicians and young, post-independence hipsters from not only the country's own surrounding rural areas, but other West African nations as well. It's cocoa production at the time gave it something of an economic edge until, into the eighties, corruption, economic crisis and ultimately, an early 21st century civil war, reduced the former French colony's viability. In fact, it's hard to imagine that there was a time not too long ago that it had the appeal that it did. Whatever the case, this double CD, one of many in the African Pearls series, features tracks from the country's musical heyday.

But is this collection frustrating. Next to top-notch dance cuts by the likes of Ernesto Djedje are some truly tame, and lame, schmaltz by the likes of Nayanka Bel and Bailly Spinto. Elsewhere, many of the tracks succumb to the slick production sheen increasingly apparent in "world music" recordings from the 80s onward. It's not that this is a terrible collection by any means; it's uneven at best, though perhaps intriguing in its unevenness. Let's face it, one doesn't hear much in the way of piano and string driven ballads from anywhere on the continent; and perhaps, while James Brown was the obvious western influence on artists such as Mali's Moussa Doumbia, who recorded in Abidjan, perhaps, for better or worse, Ibrahima Sylla, Syllart's label owner, wanted us to know about the Barry Manilow influence as well.

Things do recover a bit on disc two, with Anoma Brou Felia's classic Congolese rumba "Midemi- Mikobie." Tracks by Kantadors and Amedee Pierre lock things into a classic-era Congolese vein. In fact, it's the older tracks, dating from the 1960s, that truly salvage this compilation. While the liner notes come in French and English, they are poorly written and, as a result, fail to paint a true picture of the country's scene or even when the tracks were recorded. And while it might be of some interest to hear the diversity of music the country produced at its economic peak, a time where it pressed tons of records, it takes away from the compilation's cohesion. For better examples of Cote d'Ivoire's post-independence musical fruits, one might search out the two-volume Assalam Aleikoum Africa collection, or perhaps dig deeper still for vintage recordings by Super Yapi Jazz and the Philips-released Ivoire Retro LP. - Bruce Miller

Audio samples and CD available from cdRoots

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