Society Vibes: A New Hope (1997)
A New Hope is a South African recording, from the late ‘80s, with a cascading good vibe stemming from a production that, at times, could very well be described as a musical whimsical prayer. Perhaps “Long Live Sophia Town” and “A New Hope” itself would present the most obvious prayerful examples. Those tunes most noticeably express the reigning desire for a renewal of hope and life in the face of freedom after exhausting oppressive conditions present in most South African musical productions of the time.
The amenable nasal and hoarse tone provided by the strings, saxophones and the synthesized organ and keyboard touches, provides honest percussive laidback grooves with wide international appeal. The phrasing of all the soloists is inventive and their sonic textures have enough of an edge to sweeten the pot preventing saccharine smoothness. One can readily understand what brought together Mohamed’s melodic and harmonic jabbing and Mrubata’s heavier line of attack. Theirs is a low sizzling heat that lends itself to simple and attractive arrangements that get to the point quickly and effectively, as this is a radio friendly album.
Its relaxed edge, however, is somewhat muted by the drum and synthesizer programming. The overarching conception of this production would have been better served by a darker mix and, at the very least, live drumming. All the solo work in A New Hope, and there is plenty of it, betrays familiarity without losing itself to mere copying of successful jazzy pop and smooth formulas. Framing such nice and, at times, outright cool ideas within a somewhat constrained machine-trebly ambiance places an otherwise smart CD in an uncalled for shadier light. “McCoy’s Groove,” for example, is a truly groovy romp worthy of the African Jazz Pioneers that would be a killer tune without synthesized and drum programming. Even so, it still grooves!
There are some gems here in need of expert cutting and polishing. Maybe the budget will be more generous next time and we will get to hear a “phater” version of Society Vibes, if ever.
Track Listing: 1. African Sketches 2. New Hope 3. Kofifi 4. Bra Msomi 5. Dolphin Dream 6. Long Live Sophia Town 7. McCoy
Personnel: Pops Mohamed - Kora, Mbira guitar, keyboards, jiyi, vocals, berimbau, Jew