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Coco Mbassi
Sepia
Tinder

By NED HAMMAD

Published April 19, 2006

Smooth and rich, subtle and thick, the voice of Cameroon-born, Paris-based Coco Mbassi radiates warmly on this full-length debut. That’s why acappella numbers such as the opening “Mbaki” (with a yearning melody evoking the Yardbirds’ “Still I’m Sad”) and “Bayedi” (a multi-part, chanting tribute to her parents) are among the set’s best cuts. The catchy, joyous chorus of “Iwiye”—built on a bed of acoustic bass, sparse percussion and backing vocals—provides Mbassi with a great vehicle for improvisation. The anti-drug “Profunda Sensacao” opens with dreamy electronic strings and equally effervescent vocal line, before introducing darker shades with percussion, guitar and a mysteriously lurking syncopated bass. The song busts wide open for a hope-filled chorus built on marching, almost military-style percussion. As lush and beautiful as Mbassi sounds, Sepia also includes its share of missteps, such as “Muto,” a piano-based, spiritual call to women, whose hackneyed opening sounds lifted from a contemporary Disney ballad. And several cuts (“Mundene,” “Mbombo,” etc.) use the same minor-key tonality and chord changes, lending them an annoying sameness.

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