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Rewinding September | The Top Grooves

African bluesmen, British rappers and other albums that brought the beat.


From British rappers to African bluesmen, here are the albums that got me moving in September, presented in alphabetical order. Just click on the cover pic to read the original review (and probably listen to the album in full).

The Unmaster

WHO IS HE? A Bristol rapper, poet, playwright, singer-songwriter and all-around wordsmith whose government name is Rowan Alexander Sawday.

WHAT IS THIS? His latest outstanding solo disc that puts him squarely at the artistic forefront of British rap — an achievement that’s all the more remarkable for the fact that he completed the three-year endeavour on a shoestring budget without a label, manager or any other form of assistance, according to his website.

WHAT DOES IT SOUND LIKE? Darkly brilliant. Diz’s ominous basslines, skittery grooves and clattery textures follow in the footsteps of influential, groundbreaking Bristol forebears like Tricky, Massive Attack and Roni Size. But ultimately, Dizraeli blazes his own trail here, indelibly marking these tracks with urgently desperate vocals, irresistibly simple melodies and sharply crafted lyrics that juggle the personal and the political like a backstreet Kate Tempest. And as if that’s not enough, he uses haunting between-song vignettes to string everything together into a 44-minute dream from the sonic underground.

Sampa the Great
The Return

WHO IS SHE? Zambian-born, Botswana-raised, Australian-based rapper and singer-songwriter Sampa Tembo — who has also spent time in California, just in case you didn’t think she had enough stamps on her passport.

WHAT IS THIS? Her first proper album after a pair of critically lauded mixtapes, The Return is also an outstanding disc that simultaneously lives up to its title even as it marks the much-welcome arrival of a fully formed, groundbreaking artist — and one who easily lives up to her descriptive handle.

WHAT DOES IT SOUND LIKE? Music that crosses as many sonic and stylistic borders as she has in her actual travels. On 19 cuts that range in length from nine-minute epics to 54-second vignettes, Sampa fuses hip-hop and rap, neo-soul and R&B, funk and Afrobeat with casual confidence — then adds rich melodies and topical, uplifting lyrics voiced in an urgent rap, a mellifluous croon or an understated rasp. Despite the multi-culti origins, the mesmerizing and magnificent results exist in a world of their own.


WHO ARE THEY? The long-running collective of Tuareg bluesmen who hail from the Sahara Desert region of Northern Mali — and whose shapeshifting lineup seemingly changes as constantly and imperceptibly as the dunes.

WHAT IS THIS? Their eighth studio release since 2001, and their fourth to feature contributions from Western indie artists — this time the list includes singer-guitarist Micah Nelson, Bad Seeds multi-instrumentalist Warren Ellis, Sunn O))) guitarist Stephen O’Malley, French rocker Rodolphe Burger and singer-songwriter Cass McCombs.

WHAT DOES IT SOUND LIKE? Tinariwen in their natural element. The band reportedly wrote and recorded these 13 tracks while camping under the stars, without using headphones or any effects. Naturally, the results have a loose, lively feel, with open-ended arrangements and songs that burn down to their embers before ending in quiet conversations. The other musicians added their bits later in the studio, which seems like kind of a bummer for them.

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