Various Artists: Smooth Africa II: Exploring the Soul (2003)
Exploring the Soul is the follow up to Smooth Africa (Heads Up, 2000) which touted the genre displayed as a journey: "The perception of dark Africa can only be overcome by visiting the wonderful continent. There is a smoothness that can only be experienced by a visit." Smooth Africa (in both incarnations) is the aural attempt to accomplish this trip. The new disc was recorded primarily in Johannesburg and Cape Town, South Africa and focuses on the music of the region. Exploring the Soul extends this experience by including more artists than its predecessor, as well as a wider variety of music.
Initially, I felt that Exploring the Soul immediately comes off as a more blatant attempt to commercialize South African music. Not that this is a bad thing, but some of the pieces do not seem to fit whatever scaffolding I have erected in my head to classify such music. For example, Joe McBride’s "Adderley Street" could just as easily been found on a recent adult contemporary jazz recording, or better yet any R&B instrumental recording made in the 1980s. It is a great and soulful piece perfectly fit for David Sanborn's effervescent wailing. The same can be said of McBride’s other contribution, "Yebo!"
Save these two excellent but misplaced songs, the recording is an adult contemporary fan’s dream. Ladysmith Black Mambazo’s "Abezizwe" readily indicates the origins of much of South African vocal music. Jimmy Dludlu’s "Walk of Life" is full of African percussion, polyrhythmic and dense.
The recording is very closely produced with plush bottoms and tight, tart midranges. The mixing and production of all of the pieces betrays the care taken here in forming the broadest popular appealsomething very much in evidence on Exploring the Soul.
For more information, see Heads Up on the web.
Track Listing: Walk of Life - Jimmy Dludlu; Abezizwe - Ladysmith Black Mambazo; Bringing Joy - Alou April; Mangase - Shaluza Max; Adderley Street - Joe McBride; Neria - Oliver Mtukudzi; Punch - Andy Narell; Botsotsi - Prince Kupi; Hymn for Taiwa - Moses Khumalo; Yebo! - Joe McBride; Umuntu Wakmo - Gloria Bosman; Cape Town Love - Spyro Gyra.
Personnel: Jimmy Dludlu; Ladysmith Black Mambazo; Alou April; Shaluza Max; Joe McBride; Oliver Mtukudzi; Andy Narell; Prince Kupi; Moses Khumalo; Joe McBride; Gloria Bosman; Spyro Gyra.