various artists,
African Odyssey
(Putumayo, 2001)

Pack your bags. We're going on a musical journey across the African continent.

Putumayo, as a rule, puts out collections that are fabulous representations of the styles in question. African Odyssey is no exception to that rule. Ranging from the soft, slow traditional songs of Mali to the uptempo, Portuguese-inspired dances of Guinea-Bissau, every track on this collection has its own distinct personality, but each works well with its neighboring tracks, making a smoothly flowing trip across the musical landscapes of Africa.

Sometimes mixing the traditional with the contemporary, this collection seems to cover a lot of ground with not a whole lot of tracks. (There are ten on the CD, some more than eight minutes long.) I believe that this is because the complex texture of each individual song is so deep, so intense at times, that it's almost hard to concentrate on anything else in the room while this CD is playing. On each subsequent listening, I'm finding that I hear something new and unexpected -- a different drumbeat playing lownote in the background, or a tribal voice that was partially obscured by melody. This isn't a bad thing, I must hasten to add -- it means that this CD hasn't gotten old, despite it being on repeat for the past several hours.

If you're lucky enough to have the time to just sit, listen and follow along in the accompanying booklet, the music takes on an added dimension. The artists in this collection are as diverse as their sounds are -- from a contemporary group that mixes pop with traditional Malinese instruments and lyrics to one from Bissau whose family was so opposed to his being a musician that they broke his mandolin (to no avail, apparently, and to our benefit).

What strikes me about the collection are its deeply spiritual connections. Effortlessly, the artists are able to communicate this connection, despite a language barrier on my part. Track one, for example, "Fundo di Matu" (pronounced "FOON-doo dee MAH-too") by Manecas Costa, had a sort of energizing darkness about it for me. When I picked up the booklet, I found that the lyrics matched that feeling. (I don't speak a word of Portuguese, mind you.)

"The drums play strong
it is sacred [...]
the whiteness of the moon
has been tied to the darkness,
the mystery of the night
is found on her body and in her eyes
[...] she is sleeping and doesn't know it."

This isn't a dance collection, though there are tracks that are worthy. Meant instead to showcase the diversity of the southern African continent, it truly is a journey across land and culture.

One last note: a portion of the sales of this CD also go to benefit a group called The Global Initiative on AIDS -- a problem that is, sadly, far from under control on the African continent, where insufficient education and availability of self-protection makes it difficult to get a handle on. By purchasing this CD, you're not only getting a great collection of songs, you're also helping to eliminate this horrible plague -- something that makes parting with the money just that much easier.

[ by Elizabeth Badurina ]
Rambles: 1 December 2001

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