Various Artists

Gumba Fire: Bubblegum Soul & Synth Boogie in 1980s South Africa

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Since the 1990s, there have been numerous compilations covering African nations and their music scenes, most notably the funk and disco eras in the '70s, but in 2016 the always reliable Soundway Records made serious inroads into the '80s with their excellent collection Doing It in Lagos: Boogie, Pop & Disco in 1980s Nigeria. Two years later, they've done another masterful job of unearthing more great music from Africa with Gumba Fire: Bubblegum Soul & Synth Boogie in 1980s South Africa. Compiled by label head Miles Cleret and DJ Okapi, the set digs into the scene known as Bubblegum, which is a mix of post-disco grooves, R&B, and African pop -- and very synth-heavy. DJ Okapi ran an influential blog for years that shared songs from the era, and the two compilers do an excellent job of gathering up songs that, if they are the tip of the Bubblegum iceberg, leave the listener wanting to uncover more. There are tracks that lean more in an American post-disco direction, sounding like they could have beamed out of a Detroit radio station in the early '80s; the percolating "Mind Games" by Stimela and "Wayawaya" by Zoom are two strong examples. There are songs that have very deep African roots too, like "Hayi Ngodlame" by Zasha and "Do You Trust Amajita?" by Ntombi Ndaba. Mostly there are invigorating stylistic hybrids that sound completely unique; "My Brother" by the Survivals and "Listen to Me" by General Peter Maringa have an appealing freshness that feels as if the songs are being unsealed for the first time, despite having been created 30-something years previously. The whole set has that in its favor; it's clear from the work Cleret and DJ Okapi did putting the set together that they were opening a vein of joyful music that hadn't been tapped for wider audiences ever before. It's a well-chosen and important collection that serves the musicians involved quite well, gives fans of '70s and '80s African music something new to explore, and -- most of all -- is just a whole lot of fun to listen to.

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