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Bibi Tanga and the Selenites Dunya Review

Album. Released 2010.  

BBC Review

Dunya embraces the diversity – but not the immediacy – of the download age.

Angus Taylor 2010

The third album by Central African Republic/Parisian polymath Bibi Tanga is a remarkable bouillabaisse of musical and other artistic styles: an abstract, slow burning, film score funker with a hip, esoteric edge. But be warned: it takes a while to decamp to the dancefloor from the chill-out lounge.

Like the eclectic Malian chanteuse Rokia Traoré, Tanga is the child of a diplomat, and a youth spent shuttling back and forth from Paris to Bangui and a host of other countries appears to have left him with a ‘musique sans frontiers’ ultra-global perspective. He and his band the Selenites (named after the lunar race from HG Wells’s The First Men in the Moon) effortlessly assimilate soul, funk, jazz, hip hop and afrobeat, to name five palpable reference points.

On first listen Dunya (meaning “existence” in Sango) sounds sparse and minimal. But, in fact, there’s quite a lot going on, as dissonant samples and loping beats (from longtime collaborator and producer Le Professeur Inlassable) interact with tense vibrato strings and doodling keyboards (courtesy of violinist and co-arranger Arthur Simonini). The songs are sung, rapped and drawled in English and Sango, and the whole project has an arch, fashion-house obliqueness straight from the artier parts of the City Of Lights.

Some aspects to these soundscapes are an acquired taste. A few of the languid, near horizontal grooves and off-the-cuff lyrics walk the line between studied nonchalance and paucity of substance. The crawling Gospel Singers seems almost deliberately ironic in being such a detached, stylised tribute to such a stirring musical form.

Even so, the slower first half of the disc passes pleasantly whereas the more galvanic second half consolidates its appeal. Here Tanga unleashes his Larry Graham-style slap-pop-bass during the spirited Be Africa and previously released bonus track It’s the Earth That Moves, giving his lush creations legs.

So while a shuffle of the tracks might have generated more peaks and troughs, this album’s gradual metamorphosis makes its own kind of sense. Blasé yet painstakingly assembled, Dunya embraces the diversity – but not the immediacy – of the download age.

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