Various Artists

African Playground

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If Putumayo wasn't marketing African Playground as a compilation of children's music, some non-African listeners would have no idea that the material is aimed at kids (or is at least kid-friendly). They would know that African Playground is a good to excellent collection of African pop, but they wouldn't associate the songs with kids because it lacks the sophomoric qualities one associates with American children's music; the material sounds playful and lighthearted, but it doesn't sound sophomoric. Much of the children's music that comes from the United States is unlistenable if you're over the age of 12; it tends to talk down to kids and underestimates their intelligence. But that isn't the case on this Afro-pop CD, which could be described as "children's music with a brain." The term African pop can mean a wide variety of things; in the case of African Playground, African pop is pop music from black Africa -- and that includes West Africa and Central Africa as well as Southern Africa. The compilation doesn't get into the Middle Eastern-sounding pop of Egypt, Libya, Algeria, or Morocco, which are all part of Arabic North Africa. Instead, the material comes from countries that range from Senegal (Vieux Diop's "Sing LO-LO") and the Congo (Mose Se 'Fan Fan''s "Hello Hello") to South Africa (the Mahotella Queens' "Mbube" and Bakithi Kumalo's "Sangoma"). Some of the lyrics are in English, although most of them are in various African languages. Again, African Playground is child-friendly without sounding childish, and world music enthusiasts who are 30, 40, or 50 will find it to be a substantial, intelligent collection of modern, western-influenced Afro-pop. ~ Alex Henderson, Rovi

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