Nouvelle Ecriture

by: Papa Wemba & la Musica

If you sometimes wonder why staunch African music fans complain about Papa Wemba albums that consciously try to crossover to the international audience, Nouvelle Ecriture will clue you in. The music here, recorded in the Congo and Paris, is both much more directly from Africa and directed to the African audience, serving up everything from pan pipe synths to brief flashes of hip-hop and more detailed guitar melodies than the circular-guitar-riff-and-go style so much soukous relies on. These arrangements aren't just two-part deals, so the gentle "She Chanta" boasts rippling guitar melodies, synthesizers trading off with organ, and a finale of Ladysmith Black Mambazo-style massed choral vocals. "Effo Perso" starts slick but shapes up quickly behind the vocals and the intricate, punchy guitar lines while "Manu Kapinga" works in a funky reggae bassline flavor. "Mama" is a slick ballad, pretty enough and well sung, "Jeancy" is pure Latin rhumba with trumpet, and "Est-ce Que" starts with a near-accordion keyboard tone, delicate guitars, and a falsetto-ish lead singer. The song keeps hinting at taking off -- Viva La Musica almost wait too long before finally taking the song in a different direction than expected. "Djo" has a succession of really nice melodies, from keyboards to guitars to a final section that is as close to really cutting loose as Nouvelle Ecriture gets. "Consolation" brings back those massed South African vocals and "Ba Diamants" takes off fast and ends with a slightly distorted guitar launching into a circular riff -- a nice sound that could have been used more often. Nouvelle Ecriture doesn't depend on sheer forward push as much as a lot of soukous does, and it's not so much Papa Wemba and backing singers as it is the Viva la Musica vocal squad trading off the lead roles. Variety is the key, and while this may not be the essential Papa Wemba disc to pick up, it's a well-crafted, highly enjoyable recent effort. ~ Don Snowden

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