12 July 2010

Monday's mp3: Spreading the South African Love

Most SoundRoots readers probably know plenty about the music of South Africa. You've got the heavy hitters, including Miriam Makeba, Hugh Masekela, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Vusi Mahlalsela, and Dorothy Masuka, along with the up-and-coming artists such as Freshlyground, Louis Mhlanga, Soweto Gospel Choir, and Blk Sonshine.

You may recognize a few of those names from the pre- and post-World Cup celebration concerts. Perhaps the well-organized tournament will earn more musical recognition for the diverse artist of the host nation. If you are curious, or want to encourage someone else who is, a good starting point for contemporary South African music would be the new compilation Putumayo Presents South Africa.
Released in May, the album includes 12 tracks from a diverse array of artists. It begins with the classic sounds of the Soul Brothers, a group that has been together for more than 35 years, though all manner of changes in their home nation. Their song "Ujaheni" is a well-known song in South Africa, advising a jilted man not to worry, becuase there are plenty of other fish in the sea.

The album ends with the Soweto Gospel Choir, a group that blends traditional Zulu songs with Christian gospel. Between are a number of artists I've heard a lot (Makeba, the "supergroup" Mahube, Nibs Van Der Spuy), others I'm slightly familiar with (Steve Dyer, Kaya), and some that are completely new to me (Zoro, Bholoja, Phinda).

You can hear samples from all the songs over on Putumayo's website. And here's a full track, one of my favorites from the compilation, the track "Nkosi" from Blk Sonshine. The duo -- Masauko Chipembere and Neo Muyanga -- have a smooth flavor that combines hip-hop and jazz music with English and Xhosa lyrics in a catchy tune about looking "beyond material needs and daily pressures to find joy in faith and the fundamentals of life." That's a message we can get behind.

[mp3] Blk Sonshine: Nkosi
from the album Putumayo Presents South Africa

If there's an flaw in the album that will be obvious to World Cup viewers, it's the omission of multiethnic group Freshlyground, who played an important part in the opening and closing ceremonies as well as recording one of the tournament's official songs -- "Waka Waka" -- with Colombian hip-diva Shakira. And you won't hear any edgy kwaito music on this collection either; but then you wouldn't really expect that until Putumayo releases a South African Groove album. What you get is a solid offering of diverse jazz, folk, pop, reggae, and gospel that's easy on the ears and can help keep the spirit of South Africa alive for you. Without the vuvuzelas.
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