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World Music CD Reviews Africa

Les Escrocs

By John Kuhlman
Published December 15, 2006

Mandinka Rap From Mali
Naxos World

Les Escrocs has several albums of conscious rap out in their native Mali, and this is a best-of collection. Led by hereditary griot Mamadou Tounkara, the group has a strong reputation for addressing social and political concerns such as AIDS, Muslim polygamy, women’s rights, etc., in its native country. Of course, if you don’t speak the language, a considerable part of the message is going to be lost on you (especially since the lyrics are clumsily paraphrased rather than translated), but maybe it’s sweeter to hear the words as just part of the music, to let them whistle through your ears like some prelapsarian human birdsong, carved out of the air in the land where the word was born. Furthermore, the fact that the band eschews drum machines and turntables, instead employing indigenous acoustic instruments (balafon, talking drums, calabash, n’goni guitar) makes the whole thing shimmer like a newly discovered relic from some alternate past/future history of hip-hop. Nothing is going to sound better this summer, coming out of your boombox, while you’re running your rhinoceros through the car wash.