As the first installment in a new line on a new label from the folks at the World Music Network, Introducing Shiyani Ngcobo is an album designed to uncover both an artist who is relatively unknown on the world scene, and a musical style that's relatively unknown. Maskanda is a soft, guitar-based rural style in South Africa. It's a relative rarity compared to the Zulu mbube and mbaqanga, the Xhosa songs, and the contemporary dance styles. As such, it's refreshing to hear some of this, and from an established artist no less. While the style is generally a solo form, Ngcobo here takes on a few friends and a small group of singers as needed to add to the music. Ngcobo's guitar is steady throughout the album, providing a relaxing backdrop to his songs, which often canter along in a way mildly reminiscent of Ali Farka Touré, with additional power for the comparison coming from the interplay between guitar and vocals. That said, Ngcobo is certainly no clone of Touré, as will become clear as the album progresses through a number of works surrounding the basic formula of guitar and vocals, and including everything from call-and-response singing to a heavy duty round of squeezebox accompaniment, to the extra rare use of an igogogo, an oil-can-and-wire poor man's guitar that symbolizes maskanda. It's a nice introduction to a style that one would otherwise likely not hear, and deserves a spin as such. Ngcobo himself provides the real highlight with an excellent round of performance showing some nice abilities in playing and nicer ones in composing/arranging his works.
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AllMusic Review by Adam Greenberg