In the Name of Love: Africa Celebrates U2
Shout! Factory (4/1/08)
While Bono’s been accused of being full of himself and implying that he’s a Christ-like figure, one thing that’s undeniable is the sheer volume of his philanthropic work, most notably his activism vis-à-vis the culturally rich yet impoverished continent of Africa. Bono and his fellow U2 band mates have been active in founding several charitable organizations with a focus on issues like disease control (particularly AIDS), forgiveness of debts in poor nations and supplying food and medicine for the poor citizens of various African nations. That said, it was only a matter of time until Africa decided to show its appreciation via the musical medium, with a tribute to U2. In the Name of Love: Africa Celebrates U2 features a mix of up-and-coming musicians and well-established crossover acts covering several of the band’s most well-known hits.
Grammy-winning singer Angélique Kidjo is likely the most recognizable name on the entire album, and starts the festivities with “Mysterious Ways”, which trades in its original funk feel for a decidedly more indigenous and festive tone (complete with a strong drum beat and backing choir), and also gets translated into Kidjo’s native French. Malian singer/guitarist Vieux Farka Touré’s version of “Bullet the Blue Sky”, sung in Bamanakan, is a cool, stripped-down track that integrates a dominant element of blues. It’s not as powerful as the original, but it’s still really enjoyable for what it is.
Guinean band Ba Cissoko’s version of “Sunday Bloody Sunday” is laden with indigenous Kora harp as well as a smattering of bass and percussion, while Vusi Mahlasela’s interpretation of “Sometimes You Can’t Make It on Your Own” is probably one of the best tracks on the album. It not only offers up a fresh take on one of U2’s newer songs, but the pain, struggle and subsequent hope in the face of apartheid (something that has been a common theme in his music, making it a hit with locals) is easily detectable in the South African folk singer’s voice.
Integral Afrobeat practitioner, drummer, songwriter and former member of Fela Kuti’s Africa 70, Tony Allen, takes on “Where the Streets Have No Name”, and speaking of Fela, I’m shocked and appalled that his son Femi is nowhere to be seen on this collection. I would have loved to see what he would have done with “I Will Follow” (also not on the album). You Afrobeat fans should also be satisfied with Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars, who get things moving on “Seconds”.
Senegalese musician Cheikh Lô takes on the hefty task of covering “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”, and introduces some classical guitar and bongos, which he’s played before while dabbling in Cuban music with Burkina Faso’s Orchestre Volta Jazz. It’s an interesting take, and has that quintessential world-music feel to it. Jazzy duo Les Nubians show up with a tripadelic take on “With or Without You”. It’s not as good as their previous take on “The Sweetest Taboo”, but it’s successful at changing up the tone of the song to something pretty danceable, while still carrying a good deal of the dramatic tone from the original.
South Africa’s Soweto Gospel Choir’s rendition of “Pride (In the Name of Love)” is another stripped-down but enjoyable track, consisting of a simple African drum hanging around in the background of an otherwise powerful and moving a cappella performance. “Desire” gets some raps added to it as it gets covered by the African Underground All-Stars (consisting of members from Sierra Leone, Liberia and Nigeria); it’s not bad, but I certainly could have done without the raps.
And there you have it; I made it through the entire thing without making a single 419-scam joke. But seriously, folks, In the Name of Love is a solid collection not only honoring one of modern rock’s foremost groups, but also showcasing some of the best talent to hail from Africa. If you like U2, world music, or both, this is definitely something to pick up.