From the Ivory Coast, Dobet Gnahore is already a 2010 Grammy Award winner (for Best Urban/Alternative performance) resulting from Pearls, her duet with India.Arie on Arie's Testimony: Vol.2, Love & Politics album.
Arriving in a remarkable series of sleeve photographs showing her mud-stained, chained and wearing macabre make-up, this attractively eclectic collection is another key step in Gnahore's seemingly remorseless rise into the front line of West African music since being shortlisted for the Best Newcomer gong at BBC Radio 3's World Music Awards in 2006. Her persuasively innocent vocals are particularly effective on the mournful balladry that occupies much of the album and reaches a zenith on the pained fragility of Mouziguie. But she can be hair-raising, too, when she lets rip on slow-burner Samahani, the dramatic Beussem and the celebratory Cote d'Ivoire, impressively driven along by the pumping Gangbe Brass Band as she seeks to merge African roots with the European influence of her French guitarist, partner and co-writer Colin Laroche de Feline.
A deceptively simple stylist, she still finds a way of fully inhabiting her material as great vocalists always do, but - befitting a songwriter, percussionist and dancer as well as singer - there are several upbeat, rhythmic dance-fuelled arrangements and catchy melodies to offset the album's essential melancholia. South African star Vusi Mahlasela (duetting powerfully on the mellifluous Kokpa) is one of four featured guest vocalists providing a more knowing contrast to Dobet's guileless singing, with fellow Ivorian Soum Bill taking centre stage on the album's most bruising arrangement, Evigne. Her father, Boni Gnahore - a well-known percussionist in his own right - adds a more elemental edge to a genuinely pan-African music drawn from and inspired by the city of Abidjan's multi-cultural heritage.
The voice and key instrumentation is sometimes too low in the mix to make a fully potent strike, the upbeat stuff isn't as joyously unrestrained as it perhaps should be and there are even worrying lulls when the album seems to drift inconclusively. Yet when her gorgeous voice does cut through and her personality shines to such magical effect, you imagine more awards will tumble her way.