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Triloka/Artemis (www.triloka.com)

Long a torchbearer for the softer side of African music, Ugandan musician Samite Mulondo nonetheless creates songs that pack their own sort of power. Embalasasa (named for a type of lizard that's beautiful to look at but deadly to touch) is loaded with the sounds of the kalimba, the thumbed gourd-and-metal instrument that is his speciality. He does some lovely work on the flute as well, and if mention of the flute and kalimba together sends signals that this is a laid-back album, those signals would be correct. Samite's homeland, like several other African countries, has lately been subject to the dual ravages of AIDS and internal strife. He has sought to soften the blow through his founding of Musicians for World Harmony, an organization that promotes music in places where there is often little else to provide comfort. Samite's kalimbas pluck pensively within mainly acoustic backdrops provided by guitars, percussion, bass, piano, flute and vocals that seldom rise above a whisper. Sometimes the guitar is electric, sometimes meaty drum beats provide propulsion, but this is still more of an album to drift away on than dance to. The songs address such painful topics as death, deception and war, but themes of healing and rebirth are not ignored. Embalasasa offers gorgeous music made by a man of conviction and good will. If there's a heart beating within you, this music will bring about a very good feeling in it. - Tom Orr

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