In the news:
Elikeh highlights tiny African country of Togo
New CDs released this week of Tuesday, Aug. 21, include a funky, Afro-beat- and reggae-driven effort, "Between 2 Worlds," led by Washington, D.C.-based Togolese singer-songwriter and guitarist Massama Dogo; Ry Cooder's timely "Election Special"; "Chapter V," from Trey Songz; and a self-named debut by country singer Dustin Lynch.
Elikeh, 'Between 2 Worlds' (Azalea City)
For all the popularity of Afropop, you rarely hear much from the tiny West African nation of Togo.
But Washington, D.C.-based Togolese singer-songwriter and guitarist Massama Dogo's eclectic band Elikeh may put that sliver of country on the musical map. Singing in English and Mina, the language of street-smart coastal traders, Dogo mixes the dark throb of Nigerian Afrobeat with percolating hand drums, soukous guitar, reggae bass and American soul to create a tasty, engaging stew.
Togo's president comes in for a political thrashing, Fela-style, on the opener, the slinky, funk-driven "No Vision." Malian guitarist Vieux Farka Touré takes a fetching turn on "Alonye," which features swirling horn lines — crisp writing for sax and trumpet is a treat throughout — and "Eh Wee" evokes James Brown-like interlocking staccato lines. Mamadou Cherif Soumano adds a twinkling backdrop on kora (African harp) on "Nye'N Mind Na Wo," with lead vocals and searing guitar lines by John Kadlecik (Dark Star Orchestra), creating a thick, layered texture that would have been welcome on more of the tracks.
Indeed, the album, recorded in a variety of studios in Mali, Togo and the D.C. area, is a tad sparse and inconsistent, especially the closing acoustic guitar-accompanied folk song, "Nye Dji," which, while charming, sounds flat and out of place.
Nevertheless, the overall energy here hearkens back to exciting times, when we were all first discovering Africa's pop-music scene. And that feels great.
Paul de Barros, Seattle Times music critic
Other new releases
Ry Cooder, "Election Special" (Nonesuch)
Trey Songz, "Chapter V" (Atlantic)
Dustin Lynch, "Dustin Lynch" (Broken Bow)