Dobet Gnahoré, Na Afriki (Cumbancha, 2007)

Dobet Gnahoré grew up in an artist colony in Abidjan, the capital of the Ivory Coast. Colin Laroche de Féline was a sixteen-year-old French kid with just a guitar and a backpack when he showed up at the colony in 1996. He and Gnahoré quickly began a musical and romantic partnership that continues today. Although the album Na Afriki is credited specifically to the singer Gnahoré, de Féline co-wrote all the songs and plays guitar on most of them.

The music on Na Afriki covers a fairly broad range of styles, from soft, simple ballads to heavily percussive dance numbers. Gnahoré's deeply emotional voice is flexible enough to handle the different volumes and tempos. She sings in a number of different West African languages and addresses a lot of issues plaguing the African continent today, from war and poverty to incest and polygamy. De Féline's playing clearly owes a debt to the Malian guitarists like Habib Koité and Ali Farka Touré, but he can hold his own in that esteemed company.

The quieter songs worked best for me on the whole, most notably the ballad "Issa." I think I would have preferred a bit more of an edge on at least a few of these tracks, though. I got the overwhelming sense that Gnahoré, de Féline, and their backing band could have cut loose more than they did. Still, Na Afriki is a creditable effort from a very talented young performer who has a lot of good things to say and seems fully capable of taking her music to a higher level in the future.

Overall grade: B

reviewed by Scott

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