South Africa: Tales of Gospel and Urban S.A.

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The two reviews in this update are both compilations produced by South Africa's Sheer Sound label as part of its Sheer Africa series. The church and the city form the roots of Tales of Gospel S.A. and Tales of Urban S.A., respectively, and vocals predominate.

For the corresponding jazz compilation, click here.

Various Artists
Tales of Gospel S.A.
Sheer Sound

No sane fan of African vocal music would want to be without Ladysmith Black Mambazo , the a cappella vocal outfit that gained popularity with exposure on Paul Simon's Graceland (Warner, 1986). LBM's located front and center on this South African gospel compilation, which is right where the group deserves to be. This edition of the Sheer Africa series focuses on the most popular form of music in an overwhelmingly Christian country which refuses to let go of those tasty church vocals. (Gospel comprises 50% of record sales in South Africa, according to the liner notes.)

Sixteen different artists contribute here to a choral mix that stays warm and passionate through even its most reserved moments. South Africa has eleven official languages, and your fluency in several of those languages is needed to fully comprehend the lyrics, so most people will have to accept the fact that they aren't going to understand a lot of what's going on when it comes to words. But the great thing about gospel (as a genre) is that it's fundamentally a musical language of praise and rebirth. So dip your ears into the tradition with Masole A Tumelo or boogie down with Lundi one track later; it's all part of the same continuum.

This compilation, which could be considered the equivalent of The Rough Guide to South African Gospel, is less formal than its twin, and if I had to choose one of the two I'd pick this one because it steps more outside the church. But rather than assert some kind of authoritative knowledge of a music I'm just beginning to explore, I'll refer you to the extensive sociocultural liner notes, which ought to be instructive to novice and expert alike.

Various Artists
Tales of Urban S.A.
Sheer Sound

Kwaito and house are a big deal in South Africa right now. The former, a homegrown rap/techno hybrid, doesn't particularly exist anywhere else. In the case of Mandoza, here with Chiskop, it's got real street cred, because the artist has done his time. House, by the way, is a form of electronic music which emphasizes repetitive, regular beats (often a booming one-two-three-four).

I'm told by the people at the record label that these raps are in tsotsitaal, a kind of urban slang (tsotsi=gangster; taal=language). So if you're from South Africa, you're probably going to have several small orgasms listening to these collected jams, because the combination of a lyrical message with a matching soundscape works best when you can understand what the lyrics are about. The rest of the world will have to be content shaking hips and kicking up heels now and then. Superstar "poet, actor, TV personality and musician" Zola brings a catchy groove to balance out some of the edgier verbal riffing, and if you don't find it at least a little magnetic then you should consider ear wax removal.

Urban youth have come up with some of the coolest music on the planet (consider hip hop and reggae, for two obvious examples). Whatever your situation with the language, there's a kind of giddy energy on this kwaito collection that's impossible to escape. That is, if you would want to.

Note: These recordings are available from One World and other retailers on the web.

Stay tuned for more on Sheer Africa's four instrumental, four regional, and four genre-specific compilations.

Related link
AAJ: South Africa


Tales of Gospel S.A.

Ladysmith Black Mambazo - Siligugu Isiphambano; Zodwa - Indlela; Masole A Tumelo - Chaba Di A Fela; Lundi - Thembela Kuye; Amadodana Ase Wesile - Haufi Le Morena; MCP - Ikhenana Yoqobo; I.P.C.C. - Jesu Oa Maloba; Rebecca - Modimo Oa Ka; Holy Cross Choir - Khona Manje; Soweto Gospel Choir - Vuma; Majalefa A Morena - Godumo Dumo; Pure Gold - Icilongo; Oleseng - Mohau Oa Morena; Amasabatha - O Khethelwe; Perfect Choice - Ng 'Thethelele; St Thomas Ymg - Ha Le Lakatsa Ho Tseba

Tales of Urban S.A.

Umunt'omnyama - Chiskop (With Mandoza); For A As Long As Ngisaphefumula - Kabelo; Bowungakanani? - Msawawa; Somlinda Gengoma - Zola; Sweetie My Lovey - DJ Walker (Feat. Senyaka); Sen'khona - Andy; Izinja - Mapuputsi; Ebumnandini - Doc Shebeleza; Wolla Wolla - M'du & Ganyani; Vhavenda - Revolution (& Phillip Tabane); Guqanama Dolo - Mzekezeke (Feat Brown); Yiyo Lendawo - Arthur; Mangase - Shaluza Max; Amaviyo Embalili - Tokollo.

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