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Looking Back

The Indestructible Beat Of Soweto
Shanachie (US, Volume One only); Earthworks for all other volumes

CD cover This has to be one of the seminal series of recordings of what has come to be called "world music." When Trevor Herman collected and released these albums of South African township music from the 1980's on his Earthworks label, it pretty much created the genre with music that demanded a bin of its own in the record store. Here was a rock solid collection of folk, jive and groove that told the world what South Africa already knew, that this music could absolutely rock you to your bones. It introduced us to Mahlathini, the voice of mbaqanga. His groaning style, an outgrowth of a gimmicky style developed by studio producers in the 70s, became a respected and important sound, and with the Magaona Tshole Band and the Mahotella Queens, he became one of South Africa's most unique artists.

It was our first taste of the Zulu neo-traditional style of acoustic guitars, bass and drums, often with fiddle or accordion, brought to life here by the amazing Moses Mchunu, whose "Qhwayilahle" is still one of my all time favorite recorded works with its grinding fiddle (reminiscent of a good Holy Modal Rounders set) and thumping bass line.

The driving bass, drum and accordion sound of Nganezlyamfisa No Khambalomvaleliso was a revelation. And it was the proving ground for the classic vocal sound made famous by Ladysmith Black Mambazo, whose mix of traditional choral music and a touch of American gospel laid the foundation for Graceland a few years later. The Indestructible Beat Of Soweto is world unto itself, still one of my most frequently visited recordings, both at home and on my radio program. It sings of a time of political unrest and cultural hope. It is one of the few compilations I would ever call "perfect." - Cliff Furnald

Now available at cdRoots

See also: Africa, South Africa

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