When World Music Network released its first Rough Guide to African Music for Children in 2005, it told us that the tracks had been chosen by children themselves. This new African Music for Children doesn’t come with the same information, and, as if giving you a conscious sign that an adult mind is almost definitely responsible, some of the songs have been selected for their inspiring lyrics. Busi Mhlongo, late of Natal, warns the kiddies that if they don’t listen to their parents they will end up homeless. But she doesn’t do it in in English, so the effect will be almost utterly lost, seeing that African Music is being marketed to an English-speaking audience.
If this album is genuinely for children—for their visceral appreciation—and not for their more knowing and literate small-print-reading parents, then the Mhlongo track is a strange choice. And when I try to work out the compiler’s aims and decide to be guided by the words “joyful” and “playful” in the literature, it’s hard to fathom some of the other choices as well. I don’t insult Vieux Farka Touré‘s “Fafa” if I say that its prime goal in life is not to be joyful or playful. “Soma Kijana”, by Sauti Sol of Kenya, ends with Muppety noises and join-in-with-us laughter, which makes it a more obvious inclusion. And the song is good, too—it’s independently skilful, smart and catchy, even without the Muppeting. In fact, the best thing you can say about this album is that it trusts the child-audience to recognise well-made music when it hears it. It doesn’t talk down. Otherwise, it seems random. A slow song, OK, but why this one and not another?