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Africa Fete

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AFRICA FETE

After a two-year hiatus due to a lack of funding, the ambitious Africa Fete tour returns with a mix of exciting new talent and seasoned if somewhat predictable stars. Mali's Salif Keita headlines the four-act bill; he possesses a gorgeous, powerful voice, but his music has drifted unimaginatively toward Western pop flavors on his last few albums, the most recent of which was released three years ago. He's nonetheless a reliable attraction. The other familiar face is even more mainstream; although the music of Papa Wemba, from the Democratic Republic of Congo (formerly Zaire), is rooted in bubbly soukous, his recent Molokai (Real World) makes plain that there isn't much he won't dabble in. Luckily he's a first-class entertainer, and his soulful voice redeems what might otherwise sound like watered-down dilettantism. Senegal's Cheikh Lo is one of the thrilling newcomers on the bill, and the music on his Youssou N'Dour-produced debut album, Ne La Thiass (World Circuit/Nonesuch), reveals some pleasingly familiar flavors. Breezy Latin rhythms prevail throughout its sumptuous blend of acoustic and electric instruments, providing a nice contrast to the record's more herky-jerky West African figures. Lo's Islamic-tinged singing doesn't reach for the heights, like that of fellow countrymen N'Dour and Baaba Maal, but instead subtly and perfectly mirrors the hypnotic grooves sculpted by his musicians--some of whom are from N'Dour's band, Super Etoile. Somalian expatriate Maryam Mursal sings as a member of the traditional group Waaberi on its album New Dawn; there's a restrained sophistication in the melodies plucked on the oud, and a North African flavor to the whole that's unusual in a recording from Somalia--but the spare vocals moan with unaffected urgency. Her magnificent solo debut, The Journey (both are on Real World), uses a boldly global musical amalgam--from hard funk to Yma Sumac horn samples--to frame her earthy, authoritative wail. Mursal is a survivor--she walked out of Mogadishu with her children during the height of Somalia's civil war, passing through Kenya and Ethiopia on foot before traveling to Denmark, where producer Soren Kjaer Jensen, who would eventually work with her on The Journey, found her in a refugee camp--and as fine as the other performers are, only Mursal can claim this kind of experience behind the passion of her work. Wednesday, 9 PM, House of Blues, 329 N. Dearborn; 312-527-2583 or 312-923-2000. PETER MARGASAK

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Maryam Mursal photo by Stepehn Lowell-Davis; Cheikh Lo phogo by Galilea Nin.

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