Miriam Makeba

Mama Africa: The Very Best of Miriam Makeba

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Although this compilation is very good, the documentation is vague -- only a few dates are given for the 25 tracks, let alone original label info. What's for sure is that everything is from the mid-'50s to the mid-'70s. On many of the earlier cuts in the sequence, you can tell that the recordings almost certainly date from the 1950s and/or early '60s. As Makeba is not the sole singer on some of these, they presumably are drawn from her recordings as a member of groups, possibly all of them being from her stint in the Manhattan Brothers. (Really, it's true: more exact liner notes do help reviewers more effectively inform their readers!) Regardless, these earlier tracks are a nice blend of South African folk music with American jazz, pop, and even doo wop-influenced songwriting, arrangements, and harmonies. Makeba sounds at her best, though, on cuts that emphasize the indigenous South African elements, like "Umquokozo" and "Pata Pata"; the propulsive "Kilimanjaro" is the best thing on the disc, really giving her a chance to hang loose and uninhibited. A few of the final songs on the CD, presumably dating from the 1970s, are not as exciting due to the slicker, more funkified production, though Makeba still sings well on those.

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