Next Stop Soweto Vol. 1 and 2
We say: Life–affirming pop, rock, funk and soul from some hard–scrabble townships.
Township jive out of South Africa enjoyed a brief time in the spotlight after Paul Simon's Graceland (there were some excellent compilations such as Soweto Street Music) but lately it has fallen off the radar for most.
Welcome then are these two volumes—a third is promised—because the first picks up music from the intersection of Zulu music and Western rock, wild jazz rhythms and pure pop economy. And what leaps out is the distinctive genius of the guitar players who appear on these rare tracks lifted from obscure singles; only Mahlathini and the Mahotella Queens might be a familiar name to most.
But Vol. 2 is the real kicker: subtitled Soul, Funk and Organ Grooves from the Townships 1969–1976, this is a sweat–inducing collection of 22, often soulful and alarmingly funky, tracks which fairly fly off the disc. Again there are few familiar names (Mahotella Queens again) but that is also part of the discovery.
An excellent re–issue series through Strut who have a solid reputation in this area. Party time, dude.
Afro–Rock Vol. 1
We say: Cool and sweaty American street funk of the early 70s re–imagined through African ears.
Not quite the "Afro–rock" that the title promises, but this 12–song collection (also from Strut) delivers Afrobeat of the Fela Kuti kind (his musical role model Geraldo Pino from Sierra Leone is here with his classic Heavy Heavy Heavy) with a generous smattering of soul–funk jazz–rock of the Superfly kind—albeit with driving African rhythms.
Standout are the hard–hitting Envy No Good by the Mercury Dance Band, the 12 minute jam on Yuda by Dackin Dackino, and the gritty groove of Orchestra Lissanga on Okuzua, which sounds like it has slipped off a blaxploitation soundtrack.
It's a little shy of the cracking genius exhibited on the two albums above, but if those tickle your fancy (and feet) then this is the next logical step to git down wid it, as James Brown might have approvingly said of these, his African offspring.
We say: Should have come with a swizzle–stick.
The name of this wonderful band might now be stretching the connection as guitarist Neco has passed on, leaving only original member singer/percussionist Wilson Das Neves. But here again are Afro–Latin melodies which conjure up a warm breeze and a cocktail by the pool as trombonist Vitor Santos plays gorgeously slippery lines over the chipping acoustic guitar of Jose Carlos.
Sometimes the tunes seem like they barely want to make the effort, such is the exotically laid–back mood—but this crossover point between jazz and Latin sounds (a touch of folkloric in the mix too) is utterly engaging as three generations of players (produced by Azymuth's Ivan Conti) deliver one of the most delightful albums out of Brazil in the past decade.
Bride of the Zar
We say: The sights and sounds of Sudanese trance reduced to one dimension.
With their handmade and somewhat odd wooden xylophone (the rango) and a five–stringed electric simsimiyya, this group out of Egypt by way of the Sudan captured media attention in Britain after a tour last year which introduced their trance–like sound to a global audience. That said—and despite excellent liner notes here explaining the songs and instruments (aerosol cans filled with shells as shakers)—the magic doesn't always translate to disc. You sense the trance qualities have been constrained by requirements of "songs" for a CD and it is only on the longer pieces (the percussion–driven Bergamon 14, the five–minute plus Assuybian Lady) do you get a feel for how this music can take flight.
Graham Reid is a New Zealand—based writer whose first book Postcards from Elsewhere won the 2006 Whitcoulls Travel Book of the Year Award in New Zealand. His new collection The Idiot Boy Who Flew won the Whitcoulls Reader Choice award and is available through www.amazon.com. He also hosts his own music/travel/arts website www.elsewhere.co.nz .