MICHELE NORRIS, host:
Our music critic Robert Christgau has been working on his list of favorites from 2008, and he says one of the best albums of the year is not new music. It's a collection of African rumbas called soukous performed decades ago by an artist known as Franco. Here's Robert Christgau.
ROBERT CHRISTGAU: I love 21st century music. Lil Wayne and the Drive-By Truckers and TV on the Radio are all in my 2008 top 10. But I'm convinced that the very best music newly released in America in 2008 was recorded in Kinshasa, Zaire, three and four decades ago. The late Congolese rumba king Franco is the second and lower voice you're about to hear and also the guitarist at the end of this selection from a song about cheating.
(Soundbite of Congolese rumba music)
CHRISTGAU: Although Congolese music is loved for its buoyancy, Franco himself rarely sounded light. His guitar was forthright and plangent, so as a bandleader, he hired many fleet-fingered guitarists and also whole flocks of songbirds, like the guy who took the high part we just heard. Not that Franco was shy about singing. Here he is in 1964, four years after his nation's independence, applying his declarative baritone to a prophetic lyric that translates, "Bad people fill this country. Schemers fill this country. They lay traps for their allies. Only later will we ask how they succeeded."
(Soundbite of song "Bato Ya Mabe Batondi Mboka")
CHRISTGAU: That song appears on "Francophonic," a brand-new, two-CD set that's the best showcase Franco has ever had anywhere. It starts in 1953 and ends in 1980, by which time Franco and his sweet-voiced Kinshasa rival Rochereau co-ruled soukous. In Franco's hands, soukous was too varied to sum up in one track, or on one double CD.
(Soundbite of song "Lisolo Ya Adamo Na Nzambe")
CHRISTGAU: "Francophonic" emphasizes the provocative spirit that helped make Franco a Congo hero, an African hero. But there's plenty of blatantly pretty and commercial Franco too. So let me close with a song that was, in fact, a commercial for the Volkswagen dealership Azda. When the chorus goes "vay-way vay-way vay-way vay-way," they're saying VW as gorgeously as anyone has ever uttered those letters.
(Soundbite of song "Azda")
NORRIS: The collection from Franco is called "Francophonic." Our reviewer Robert Christgau writes for the monthly consumer guide to CDs at msn.com.