IT CAN be argued that the biggest external influence on African pop music has come from neither Europe nor North America but from the Caribbean. It was Afro-Cuban jazz that inspired the wildly popular "Congo" style in the 1950s; calypso singer Harry Belafonte made important connections with South African musicians in the 1960s; and in 1980 Jamaica's Bob Marley was invited to perform at the Independence Day celebrations in Zimbabwe. And now three of the biggest pop stars in sub-Saharan Africa -- Nigeria's Majek Fashek, South Africa's Lucky Dube and the Ivory Coast's Alpha Blondy -- are playing straightforward reggae music.
Fashek's first international album, "Prisoner of Conscience," contains his two big West African hits: a funk-flavored version of Marley's "Redemption Song" and Fashek's own drought-prayer, "Send Down the Rain." Fashek's light, attractive tenor voice and economical guitar work are both attractive, but producer Lemmy Jackson's programmed rhythm machines lack West Africa's usual polyrhythms and soon grow monotonous. Fashek's songwriting also grows repetitive as he tries to stretch out simple political chants and minimal melodies into five- and six-minute songs. He obviously longs to emulate the extended political commentary of his fellow countryman Fela Anikulapo Kuti within the reggae genre, but Fashek lacks Fela's fertile musical imagination.