On their third CD, Hijas del Sol (Daughters of the Sun) salute the founder of the afro-beat sound, Fela Kuti, a radical both in the musical and political arenas in his native Nigeria. Fela blended jazz and R&B with the traditional sounds of Africa to create a dance music that spread around the globe in the '80s. But in the past decade, afro-pop has become so dominated by synthesizers that much of it has lost the powerful roots that initially made it enticing. Hijas del Sol--a group that is centered on the harmonious singing of Piruchi Apo Botupa and Paloma Loribo Apo--took the music back to its acoustic beginnings on their first two releases, and both CDs were quite popular in Europe. Hailing from Equatorial Guinea, the women sing in their native dialect, Bubi, and their second language, Spanish. But it is not the words that matter so much; rather, it is the ebullience of their youthful voices and their openhearted approach to the music.
On the Fela tribute, titled Kchaba, the singers continue their spirited singing but it is a much more electric release than previous efforts. Producer and keyboardist Alberto Gambino even uses screaming rock guitars on "Grito Libre," a funky but moving call for Africans to follow Fela's quest for freedom. And in the smooth ballad "La Princesa Perdida," there is the scratching found on much of today's hip-hop recordings. These contemporary additives might detract from the purity of the Hijas' singing, but Gambino is a tasteful producer and doesn't let the instrumentation dominate the vocals. As a tribute to Fela, however, Kchaba does come off as a bit of a cheap shot. The material is not Fela's, nor is the sound as in-the-moment, as jazzy, as most of his own recordings. There is a dramatic spirit in the performance, a sense of urgency in the delivery and the aftertaste of risk-taking in the music of Fela Kuti, but the Hijas sound too overproduced and bubbly, tasting flat as a yesterday's Coke by comparison.