Daara J | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Daara J 

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For all the talk about the international reach of hip-hop, Americans rarely get to hear examples of it from different countries; the Senegalese trio Daara J is the first overseas hip-hop act not from England or France that's made much of a splash here. That makes sense: though their multilingual rhymes are only sprinkled with English, their panache and grace render the music immediately accessible. The best material on Daara J's debut album, Boomerang (Wrasse), draws from the circular grooves of traditional West African music; Malian singer Rokia Traore wails in the background of "Le cycle," while the propulsive, stuttering title track glides on a dry, bluesy acoustic guitar loop. But more often the tracks are infused with Cuban son and reggae--popular France-based Afro-Cuban bandleader Sergent Garcia arranged "Esperanza," for instance, and the neosoul chorus on the fierce "Bopp Sa Bopp" features a Bob Marley-esque call for "love, peace, and harmony." The group's three MCs--Aladji Man, Faada Freddy, and N'Dango D--use an array of languages (Wolof, French, Spanish, and English) and styles, from dancehall hectoring to sweet-voiced entreaties a la the Fugees to gruff speed rapping. I've heard more arresting African hip-hop--Tanzania's X Plastaz most recently--and, held against current trends, Boomerang sounds a bit 1995. But I hope Daara J's life-affirming polyglot music opens the door for more groups like it. This is their Chicago debut. All Natural headlines, and the duo's Tone B. Nimble opens with a DJ set. Mon 7/18, 9:30 PM, Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western, 773-276-3600 or 800-594-8499, $12.

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