Artist: Papa Wemba
According the to liner notes of Papa Wemba's album EMOTION, the fashion-conscious, trendy artist is adamant about not being pigeon-holed as an "ethnic singer," preferring to be known simply as "a singer", period. Judging by the cross-cultural pollination evident on this album, his request seems reasonable. Wemba has been pushing the boundaries of the African-based soukous for several decades; even his earliest albums with the group Zaiko Langa Langa in the early 70's showed his desire to fuse the music of his native Zaire with pop/rock influences of the West. EMOTION, however, is by far his most daring effort yet. Enlisting British producer Stephen Hague (the mastermind behind groups like the Pet Shop Boys and New Order), Wemba achieves a perfect balance between energetic dance pop and traditional African instrumentation/rhythms. The backdrop is heavy on electric beats and keyboard textures, indigenous percussion, guitars and horns, yet Hague knows what the main draw is here. As such, Wemba's light, emotive voice is always given top-billing, and that's what makes this album such a joy to listen to.