Palo Congo


Ground-breaking world music. Probably.

Although this album is listed in 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die, its entry only describes it rather than explaining why it has been included. (The piece reads like someone was assigned it as homework; the book is a great resource, but I have many reservations about it.) Having listened to Palo Congo, I am also at a loss to explain its place in history.

Certainly, the album brings a flavour of world music from a time well before there was such a category in the western world, and it must have sounded very different at the time. It isn't Sinatra-smooth crooning, or bouncing Basie jazz; it's not perfect pop or raw rock'n'roll. It's a view into a different kind of world, an older world, where music is made for participation rather than listening to.

So, all the chants and repetition would be great fun if you were joining in. As an audio experience at home, it's a bit tedious. If I had to choose one track, it would be "El Cumbanchero", which has an actual tune and some sort of direction and development - at least, for the first couple of minutes. After that it runs out of steam but persists for another three. "Choferito Plena" has an appealing figure on a guitar (or something similar) which reminds me of The Bhundu Boys. "Triblin Cantore" is nice enough. However, too many tracks are just extended conga workouts - fair enough given that Sabu Martinez is a congo player, I suppose, but unedifying to listen to for any length of time.

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