30 September 2009

An Unlikely African Ambassador

Christine Vaindirlis: Dance Mama!
Christine Vaindirlis seems an unlikely ambassador of South African music. Born in London, the singer was trained in Milan and at Boston's Berklee College. As a youth, however, she lived and soaked up the culture of South Africa. And it's her time in Johannesburg and her more recent travels to Africa that underlies her energetic debut alum, Dance Mama!, which kicks off with the township beat of "Indaba (Meeting Place)" and includes a touching tribute to Miriam Makeba, in the title song with its clever interweaving of Mama Africa's hits "Pata Pata" and "Mbube."

Vainderlis explains the impetus for the album:

My inspiration for the album was the concept of ubuntu: helpfulness, caring, trust, unselfishness, what one can do to improve the community, as well as oneself as an individual. "This is my Place" is a song of encouragement for the people of South Africa to work as one nation. There is so much ethnic diversity, and the whole blend is such an extraordinary fusion when everyone brings something to the table. I’m calling for us to embrace a new day, to work together for a wave of change and make South Africa, our home, an example.

The album, like Vaindirlis' life, takes some side trips from Africa. A heady blend of funk, R&B, soul, and non-African jazz takes center stage on songs including "Call to Freedom," "Should I Make You Pay?" and "No More Drama." Vaindirlis' voice is remarkably powerful and flexible, reminding me of various other singers, but perhaps none so much as Laura Love. I admit I'm struggling a bit with the 9+ minute "Tell Me," which begins as an R&B ballad, then curiously veers into experimental jazz-fusion instrumentals before returning home again. I prefer the African-flavored tracks, particularly the joyful remembrance to her late father "Down by the River." Dance Mama! is a joyful romp through many cultures by a powerful voice with the perfect credentials to make you dance. And it's a reminder that your true culture and family aren't necessarily limited to what can be found in your hometown.

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