Review : Various Artists - Next Stop Soweto
PopmattersWhen Paul Simon released his bestselling Graceland album in 1986, an international audience became familiar with the South African township music that had inspired Simon and that sent him to record in Johannesburg. However, while Simon’s album represented a commercial pinnacle, the ground for the international exposure of urban South African music was being laid elsewhere. The South African Gallo label had compiled numerous compilations of township recordings by the mid-1980s (Simon’s inspiration was one such compilation, the impossible to locate Gumboots: Accordion Jive Hits). However, Earthworks’ The Indestructible Beat of Soweto (1985) probably made the most impact on the international market (honorable mention should also go to Zensor/Rough Trade’s Soweto from 1982 and Earthworks’ Zulu Jive from 1984). For many listeners, this was the ideal opportunity to be exposed directly to the music, rather than hear it filtered through the essentially American aesthetic of Simon’s work.
For anyone caught up in the epiphany of the Indestructible Beat album and its successors, the appearance of Strut’s Next Stop… Soweto, a three-volume project that kicks off with a compilation of mbaqanga music, is both an invitation to recall Earthworks’ groundbreaking work and an opportunity to reflect on the changes that 25 years of “world music” have wrought on the popular music landscape. It’s tempting to say that it is difficult to imagine a new compilation having the sort of impact that Indestructible Beat had because of the glut of anthologies on the market. But this would be inaccurate on at least two counts. First, there were plenty of compilations around in the mid-1980s. Secondly, there are doubtless a number of innovative anthologies covering emerging genres that will still have an important impact on certain sectors of society. It is just unlikely that a mbaqanga compilation will be one of those, given the genre’s association with the past—so many musical movements have come and gone in the intervening years....full text
IndependentWe've had plenty of vintage music from Mali, Nigeria and the Congo in recent years but very little from South Africa, so this CD is an exciting prospect for music lovers.
This is raw, joyous, and absurdly catchy township jive, primarily from the 1970s, that speaks of the resilience and optimism of a people with seemingly no way out of the vicious apartheid regime that even labelled black musicians criminals. For better or worse, there would be no Vampire Weekend if this stuff didn't exist. Indispensable....full text
BbcThe first in a three-part series showcasing ‘underground’ South African music of the 1960s and 1970s, this volume is subtitled ‘Township sounds from the golden age of mbaqanga’. More widely known as ‘township jive’, mbaqanga (a Zulu word for the local staple of steamed cornmeal bread) combined rural Zulu folklore and harmony vocals with ‘western’ guitars, drums and even brass. Mbaqanga was at its peak in the later part of this period, and aside from the opening maskanda (a related style) of the opening track, this compilation focuses largely on it.
The music is unmistakeably South African (and specifically Zulu), but its tough and rootsy grooves, plentiful hooks and amazing economy give it a broad appeal, and it still sounds fresh today. Few of these 20 tracks make it over three minutes, during which the musicians hit the ground running, kick arse and disappear in a heartbeat. Three-minute heroes, indeed.
The most successful mbaqanga act of the time was the wonderful Mahlathini and the Mahotella Queens. They’re represented here by four tracks, though the group’s name varies according to the producer, record company and associated musicians, which is a little confusing. Both Umkhovu and Nomacala were also featured on the fine Earthworks profile of Mahlathini called King of the Groaners (1993), and the two other songs are fairly average examples of their music.
Happily, there’s plenty of less-familiar material that makes this more worthwhile. Melotone Sisters with Amaqala Band seem to have a male singer, very much in the ‘groaner’ vocal style popularised by Mahlathini. Lucky Strike Sisters’ Mr J.S. Mpanza features a brilliantly theatrical dialogue in the middle, and perhaps the most infectious cut is Sikhwele, by Aba-Lilizeli, which sounds like it was mastered from some crusty but very tasty vinyl. Soul Chakari, 10 To 11 and ‘Iza Wena’ Happy Africa are the best of a handful of lovely, warm instrumentals which fade out all too quickly....full text
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