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West Africa's music enchants the West

Bluesy, trancelike melodies pull in wider audiences in the US and Europe, as the music's exotic rhythms move mainstream.

'Soul Science': Justin Adams (rear), Salah Dawson Miller (l.), and Gambian Juldeh Camara (front) collaborated on a new album.

COURTESY OF GAVIN MATHESON/WORLD VILLAGE

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West Africa may be one of the poorest regions in the world but it boasts a natural resource of astonishing wealth: its music. In recent years, the aural riches of Mali, Niger, Senegal, and Gambia have been gaining currency in America and Europe through several ambassadors.

Take Niger's Etran Finatawa, for example. When the six-person band came to the United States in April, they weren't sure what sort of reception to expect given their exoticism. Half the band are Tuaregs who resemble Saharan astronauts in bright blue turbans; the others are Wodaabe tribesmen whose traditional dress consists of face paint, patterned tunic, and towering headdress feather. But when audiences heard the syncopated clapping, hand drums, and tribal chants that swirl around the centrifugal force of the guitarist's bluesy melodies, the response was ecstatic. Rave concert and album reviews followed in The New York Times and Rolling Stone magazine.

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