Koffi Olomidé - Haut De Gamme - Koweït, Rive Gauche - Review
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critics' view

Christ, just look how utterly, heroically naff that album cover is. 

Whoever was in charge of picking the African albums that ended up in 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die seems to hate African music in general, or know absolutely nothing about it - the choices are just bizarre, with the only thing they have in common being their willingness to sell their own culture down the river in persuit of some tacky American sheen. Of all Khaled's albums, why choose Kenza? Why go for Baaba Maal's Lam Toro ahead of Djam Leelii? These are records that bend over backwards to make themselves acceptable to people they should never have even thought about pleasing in the first place. I somehow doubt Ladysmith Black Mambazo would have ended up in the book at all if it wasn't for Paul Simon, nor Youssou N'dour if not for Neneh Cherry.

On that same note, "Désespoir" is little short of vomit-worthy, and it can't help but cast a shadow over the rest of this album.  It's a stab at sickly sweet R&B - think All-4-One's "I Swear", Monica's "Angel of Mine", Michael Jackson's "Childhood", things like that - that sounds like the kind of music a nine year old would imagine adults having sex to, a love song that would make even the most hopelessly romantic woman in the world tell the man singing it to grow a fucking pair.  Fair enough, if it was a good song at heart, it wouldn't be so objectionable (think of Khaled's "Aisha", for instance - pretty Western but also pretty damn beautiful), but the fact that it's so awful, so shameless, and so hopelessly limp makes it not only unlistenable, but offensively so.

Luckily, and perhaps surprisingly given that album cover (JUST LOOK AT IT), nothing else on the album comes close to being as bad.  It's not quite kwassa kwassa, not quite soukous, but it's somewhere inbetween and that makes it a sound choice for an introduction to the music of Congo (or Zaire, as it was at the time).  Impressively, it also manages to incorporate a few European touches in a way that's both intelligent and tasteful, and that doesn't dilute the African flavour at all - perhaps that's to be expected from a man that studied in both Bordeaux and Paris for a few years, but that shouldn't take the shine off the fact that it's a difficult trick to pull off (as the other albums mentioned in the second paragraph, as well as "Désespoir", can attest) and Olomidé mostly does it with subtlety and class.  Those are good words to use for most of the album, actually.  I don't think Haut de gamme - Koweït, rive gauche is a classic of African music especially, but once you get over the album's one horror show there's much to enjoy and appreciate.

Iai
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