03 May 2010

Monday's mp3: Soweto Calling

If your world-music exploration is anything like mine, you've had some exposure along the way to the great, clangy, energetic music of South Africa's townships. Perhaps starting with the transmogrified sounds on Paul Simon's classic Graceland album. Or perhaps in more pure form with the first installment of The Indestructible Beat of Soweto, which came out the same year.

Much of the music coming out of apartheid-era townships was mbaqangwa or jive -- a blend of traditional rural Zulu music and vocal harmonies with electric guitars and other modern instrumentation. It's infectious, bouncy, upbeat, and eminently danceable.

Now Strut records is getting into the act of re-issuing some rarities from the townships (following on the heels of their recent releases of old and new Ethiopian and Nigerian music) in a three-part series called Next Stop...Soweto.

The first album is Next Stop...Soweto: Township Sounds from the Golden Age of Mbaqanga, on compilers Duncan Brooker and Francis Gooding present a number of rare short-run 45s from mostly lesser-known artists. This is music recorded largely for the local market. If you're familiar with township jive, you won't find anything earth-shatteringly new here, though it's a solid 20-track collection that will set your toes a-tappin'.

The second installment required the compilers to dig even deeper. Entitled Next Stop...Soweto Vol. 2: Soul, Funk & Organ Grooves from the townships 1969-1976, this album presents a side of township music I'd never heard before. The South African authorities apparently had a policy of discouraging imported music, so performing in the style of US soul, funk, and jazz artists was driven underground, heard largely in house parties and private record collections while jive dominated radio and public dances. Check out "Wozani Mahipi" for a surprising funky side of the Mahotella Queens. You'll hear some pretty clear references to US R&B and funk in the organ, guitar, and sax riffs here... but few of the tracks come across as imitation. The artists integrated this new sound with elements of traditional music in a most compelling way.

Check out Philip Malela & the Movers' track "Intandane (Part 1)" for its bass-driven groove, or Philip Malela's "Tiba Kamo" for its big-wall-of-funk sound. They'll blow your mind.

[mp3] Philip Malela & the Movers: Intandane (Part 1)

Next Stop...Soweto Vol. 2: Soul, Funk & Organ Grooves from the townships 1969-1976

This is a bridge-building album for your friends who don't know that they like South African music; pop it in the stereo without fanfare, and watch their eyes pop open when you later tell them it ain't American; it's from apartheid-oppressed township-based Africans. (Official release date is May 11).

And stay tuned for the third installment, focusing on jazz from the townships, coming in June. Thanks, Strut!

Buy Vol. 1 | website
Buy Vol. 2 | website

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