With Jive Nation, the Indestructible Beat of Soweto series begins to sound tired -- the first flush of discovery has worn off and the difficult challenge of sustaining interest isn't met. The decision not to include the new, synth-based dance music forms bubbling up hurts, because that's where the action is (Volume Six would take that plunge) and it feels like they're starting to scrape around in the archives for old-school material.
The handful of familiar names here are far outnumbered by wannabe followers in their footsteps. The Soul Brothers' pair of tracks are okay in their typical vein, and Imitshotshovu is an enjoyable-enough group following their sonic lead, but one notch below. The Mahlathini and the Mahotella Queens track is nothing special, and both Makhubela & Nkholhlwani Girls and J.J. Chauke & Tiyimeleni Young Sisters clone the groaner-with-backing-babes sound. The latter's track has all the right elements but the cluttered arrangement keeps it from jelling, unlike West Nkosi's sax jive instrumental, "Majava Java," the best early track even though it's nothing great.
The Johnny Clegg & Savuka track (an international name the Indestructible Beat never needed to lean on before) stands out for their stabbing keyboard riffs and driving basslines. King Star Brothers and Abafana Benkokhelo take the Ladysmith Black Mambazo mbube highway, the you've-heard-all-this-before-so-why-do-I-need- to-hear-it-again route, although the three-four-minute songs mean the boredom level doesn't get too bad. There's plenty of accordion jive, including the guttural vocals and bass drum thump of Tau Ea Linare, and the no-melodic-variation sound of Ikhansela No JBC is matched in its single-mindedness (punk mbaqanga?) by the guitar riff and drum-heavy attack of John Maluleke & Rotterdam Sisters.
But Jive Nation does close strongly. Phuzekhemisi No Khethani's "Amagama Akho" is seriously happening from the start with its compelling accordion melody and backing vocal harmonies. Benkokhelo's "Hawu! Khuzanimadoda" (from his album,Colense) makes the mbube sound fresh and involving with different takes on approaching the harmonies. Ihashi Elimhlophe rocks out convincingly behind a near-rap vocal, strong mbaqanga bassline, organ which almost sounds like a harmonium, and strong guitar.
It's not that the tracks on Jive Nation don't have their moments, but would they ever have been released outside South Africa if the Indestructible Beat franchise wasn't around? The majority of the songs come across as not half-bad but as nothing too special, either, and that'll do as a capsule summary of the compilation.