Roots of Rumba Rock: Congo Classics 1953-1955

Ever since Buena Vista Social Club, Afro-Cuban music has been on the radar of mainstream trendspotters both old and young. That's great for world music as a genre: it's no longer the province of bookish ethnomusicologists and adventurous beatniks, but music that can accompany a nice Merlot over dinner, or a Cuba Libre at cocktail hour. Yet the majority of new releases and rereleases since BVSC have concentrated on the Caribbean side of the equation (with the possible exception of Senegal's Orchestre Baobab), to the detriment of the motherland whose cultural traditions inspired it in the first place. After being introduced to the rumba in the '40s, the deep, dark jungle of equatorial Africa adapted its syncopated rhythms to its own preexisting musical tradition over the next decade. The results, as collected here, are positively sublime, with all the foundational gravitas of a Robert Johnson box set. Mainly consisting of rumbas, but also containing polka pikes, beguines, and traditional folkloric songs, this two-CD set rarely fails to amaze the ears. The melodic cadences, the sinuous grooves, the sense of primordial Congolese rhythm are all here, and then some. Sound quality could perhaps be better by today's digitized standards, yet considering the vintage (and relative scarcity) of the source material, this set is an easy one to recommend not just to the world music or Afrobeat fan, but the folk music junkie as well.


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