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Salif Keita: Papa

Salif Keita, the musical wonder from Mali, is no stranger to cross-cultural ventures, and has often gotten away with it, musical wits intact. On his new one, Papa (Metro Blue 99090; 51:24), New Yorkers get in on the act, and it’s mostly a successful marriage, or at least an interesting variation on the theme of Keita’s discography.

Of course, the center holds because of the name on the marquee: Keita’s clarion call voice, a commanding and nuanced sound unique in the world of music, grabs your ear from the first track, “Bolon.” The American musician list includes guitarist Vernon Reid, also a co-producer alongside Keita, who plays chattering linear parts as well as bits of crunchy-toned riffing. And wait, isn’t that Grace Jones in the crannies, sprinkling coloristic soul howls behind the leader? We also hear keyboardist John Medeski, and kit drummers Ben Perowski and Curtis Watts, who lay down back-beaten grooves closer in nature to post-R&B than Afro-pop.

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