Various Artists Tales of Afrojazz S.A. Sheer Sound
Last year South Africa's dominant jazz label, Sheer Sound, came up with a new imprint known as Sheer Africa, dedicated to documenting musical instruments and styles from all over the continent. Three of Sheer Africa's seven Tales of releases to date focus on South African musicians, and that includes this disc devoted to today's jazz.
One would expect, given Sheer Sound's position in the industry, that a jazz compilation like this (which mostly draws from the Sheer Sound catalog) would have the greatest depth and breadth of any entry in the Sheer Africa series. And that's the case. One and only one gripe: of the three South African artists who made it big in exile (Hugh Masekela, Abdullah Ibrahim and Miriam Makeba), only Masekela is represented here. Admittedly Makeba's time has passed, but it's not clear exactly why Ibrahim was left out. Regardless, it's crystal clear that each and every one of the other fourteen artists on the collection has a distinct voice and something personal to say with it.
South African jazz is characteristically warm and gentle, reflecting a tradition that goes almost as far back as the American version. Saxophonist Winston Mankunku Ngozi, who made a major splash with 1968's Yakhal'Inkomo, appears on 2003's "Give Peace a Chance," a suitably perky, optimistic number. Gloria Bosman, whose emotionally drenched voice spans the range, rides with a chorus atop a rhythmic vamp; Louis Mhlanga wraps his (acoustic) guitar into a thick mix of interwoven textures.
These generally listenable, mellow selections do include some smooth jazz (by guitarist Jimmy Dludlu, for one), which is only fair given what's happening in South Africa today. Historically important marabi, kwela, and mbaqanga styles are all represented to one degree or another. On the other end of the spectrum comes the avant-garde vision of Zim Ngqawana, the most progressive figure on the S.A. scene today.
Listeners who are not familiar with South Africa's active jazz community should be pleasantly surprised by its richness and diversity. This collection, along with Heads Up's recent entry of a similar nature, ought to help bring South African jazz the attention it rightly rightly deserves.
AAJ: South Africa
Personnel and Track Listings
Jimmy Dludlu - Linda; Steve Dyer - Qinisa Indlu; Hugh Masekela - You Keep Me Hangin' On; Mike Makhalemele - Emkhaya; Sankomota - Now or Never; McCoy Mrubata - Face the Music; Gloria Bosman - Amaqwati; Prince Kupi - Bototsi; Louis Mhlanga - Shamwari; Sipho Gumede - Township Jive; "Big Voice" Jack Lerole - Across Africa; Errol Dyers - Sonesta; Winston Mankunku Ngozi - Give Peace a Chance [een liedjie vir Saldanah Bay]; Zim Ngqawana - Qula Kwedini; Paul Hanmer - After Cecil and Alarice Marry.