Reviews April 17, 2014

Bibi Tanga’s latest album, Now, will surely come as a pleasant surprise for some who haven’t been clued in to Tanga’s career up to this point, while those who have been paying attention won't be disappointed one bit. Now is an appropriate name for the album, which sounds immediate and of the moment, joyful and genuinely life affirming. Tanga, who was born in Central African Republic, spent his childhood traveling the world with his diplomat father, spending time in Russia, Belgium and Brooklyn. He has since settled in France, but his ties to his original home country remain strong. On many of Now’s songs he sings in Sango, the language spoken by most Central Africans. The current conflict that has divided the CAR is very much on Tanga's mind, as he has dedicated Now to Bangui, the country’s capital, writing, “Que la paix s’y installe durablement” (“That peace may take hold lastingly”).

Though Tanga has been recording since 2000, Now marks the first time that he has recorded a solo record. His previous collaborators included the French funk group Malka Family, producer Professeur Inlassable, and the band they formed together called the Selenites. Tanga produced Now on his own, ensuring that his musical vision isn’t diluted in any way. That vision is ripe with inventiveness and a throwback '70s style that still sounds fresh for 21st century ears. While many albums are front-loaded with the best material leading into filler, Now keeps sounding better and better, as if Tanga is gaining momentum as he goes along. Musically, the album is full of energy and sincere soulfulness, and while many of the lyrics deal with the unpleasant realities of war in his native land, Tanga never loses his uplifting spirit. On “Ngambe,” which begins with the sound of gunfire, Tanga sings “You play with guns to kill people/I play music to save people.”

Some of Now’s highlights in the funk and soul genres include “Upset,” a disco-funk track that is one of those rare songs that is just as heartfelt as it is ready for the dancefloor. The title track and “With You” are straight-up Al Green-style soul  tracks, while “Now” also showcases Tanga’s funky bass playing. “Money Honey” sounds somewhere between P Funk and Frank Zappa-- a mixture as thrilling as it looks on paper.

However, Now is just as much about the CAR and Tanga's upbringing as it is about keeping alive the great sounds of decades past. The musical tradition of Central African Republic is present on Now, for instance in the song “Monteguene,” named after a rhythm played in the country’s Lobaye region. That rhythm has a stop-and-start quality  that both stands out from other styles on the album and makes it immediately infectious. On “War,” Tanga raps, “We think we brave, but we digging our own grave” over a beat that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Devin the Dude album. Tonga, who grew up listening to the gospel singer Ella Jenkins, brings the influence of spirituals on “Who’s Gonna Be Your Man,” with harmonized singing of “Oh lordy me/Who’s going to be your man?”

These songs sound great on record, and we would be thrilled to see Tanga perform them live. While his country is in the midst of the horrors of a war that has torn its population into armed camps, Tanga has crafted a record palpably full of optimism- we can only hope that it is borne out.

Watch Tanga's sense of humor in full force on the "Ala Za I O" video below: