Baloba!

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Take a trio of West Africa's top vocalists, a group of smoking New York-based Cuban and Puerto Rican musicians, some all-star guest African singers, Mali's legendary producer Boncana Maiga, and you have one of the hottest bands on the planet. That group is Africando, which, translated from the language Wolof (one of the most common languages in Senegal), means "Africa reunited." Based in Dakar, Senegal, throughout the 1990s, the group has set the standard in a tradition that dates back more than half a century: the return of Afro-Cuban music to the African continent.

Rather than following the successful formula of its first three albums which was by churning out catchy Afro-Salsa pop, Baloba! is an acoustic tour de force. Brilliantly produced by Maiga (who studied music in Havana, Cuba for nine years), the record is a mix of steel-string guitars, tres, trumpets, bongos, claves, cowbells and fabulous Wolof vocalists.

Listening to the album, it is quite clear that the African continent is where Cuban music was born. Baloba!, like last year's Buena Vista Social Club shows that the "Son" -- the rhythm from Eastern Cuba that is the roots of modern-day salsa -- is not something only found on old scratchy LPs, but is once again in record stores and radio airwaves on three continents. Baloba! is nearly flawless, as West Africa's finest vocalists alternate in their interpretations of an ageless music. The album's one flaw is a cover of French chanson legend Edith Piaf's "La Vie En Rose." That song, a huge crowd pleaser for their live shows, seems out of place on what is otherwise a top-notch Afro-Cuban record. My advice, program your CD player to skip track 11, and get ready for one of the best Afro-Latino records of the year. --

Dan Rosenberg writes about music for the Metro Times. E-Mail letters@metrotimes.com.

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