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Coco Mbassi, Sepia (Tinder)
Coco Mbassi has a voice that can only delight. It's tough to avoid clichés when attempting to describe this Cameroonian singer's incredible gift: creamy, silky, light and rich, thick as a wave, beautiful. A knack for pure melody that flourishes ten fold when surrounded by her overdubbed harmonies. Comparisons to the better known superpower, Oumou Sangare (for whom Mbassi has sung backup) are inevitable and merited. But her register and smoothness are perhaps more akin to another superstar: Sade. This similarity is reinforced by the laid-back arrangement and instrumentation found on Mbassi's debut full-length album, Sepia. Whether on ethereal tracks like "Mbombo" and "Oa Nde" in which only a piano or guitar supplement her wondrous voice, on others abetted by strings, acoustic bass and various percussion such as the lovely opener, "Mbaki", or a cappella as on the tribute to her deceased parents,! "Bayedi", it is Mbassi's singing that sheds the most light. And it seems we have the French (she moved to Paris two decades ago) to thank for placing the spotlight on such a talent, namely Radio France for having awarded Mbassi the opportunity to record an album after winning a contest in 1996. Before this, she had provided backup for such luminaries as Salif Keita, Dee Dee Bridgewater and Manu Dibango. Now the spotlight belongs to her. And we are better for it.