How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.
The music of South Africa is a collage of fascinating rhythms, woven from ethnic folklore and the musical heritage of the early settlers. In that mix are kwaita, kwela and mbaqanqa, as well as gospel and township jive with reggae, jazz and rap making later inroads. The spectrum is wide and the impact heady, as evidenced on the well-compiled Putmayo Presents: South Africa.
The album jumps up and shouts right from the first track. The Soul Brothers band, which was formed in 1974, has changed its lineup over the years; here, David Masondo and Moses Ngwenya front the band that bring on the upbeat, dance tune "Ujaheni." The beat is relentless in its ability to hook and, with an organ underscoring the catchy melody, this is a potent brew of rhythm and pulse.
The mood shifts to the soothing beauty of Swazi Soul, of which Bholoja turns out to be a fine exponent. He fills "Mbombela" with a sense of urgency, gently churning the waters of the beat atop a chiming acoustic guitar and percussion to create a gorgeous reimaging of a traditional nursery rhyme.
's career was marked by several milestones, including being a political activist. She was called Mama Africa, and recorded "Orlando" as a member of The Skylarks, a vocal group that was popular in the 1950s. The song swings deliciously, abetted by clarinet and vocal harmonies; a jazz-inflected tune that is absolutely irresistible.
The Soweto Gospel Choir may well have written the book for a cappella harmonies. They execute their singing with excellence, layering their voices in seamlessly woven textures that rise as comfortably to a hosanna as they dip to an understated exclamation on "Ngahlulele." The passion and the commitment reverberate through every note, as the melody is drawn into the soul of the group's sound.
Some of the other selections bring on the more modern influences. With its manifold styles and grooves, the music on Putmayo Presents: South Africa becomes a joyous voyage of discovery.