Lebombo is the creation of acoustic guitarist, singer, and composer Phola Mamba. The band was created in 1986 as a quartet consisting of acoustic guitar, vocals, balaphone, and saxophones, in order to give a new interpretation to South African township musics such as kwela and mhbaqanga. Over the years, the band grew to encompass piano, bass, trombone, and occasionally other instruments, and has stretched out to embrace township jive and the entire kwela roots system (which incorporates everything from tribal music to early jazz), setting its influences in a context of new song forms that embrace modern jazz improvisation. The music has an eternal restlessness that is ruthless in its pursuit of dance rhythms and groove streams, making it infectious and even viral in its joyful countenance. This set, recorded in 1992, reveals the fully mature Lebombo in all its glory. There are the self-revealing tunes, such as "Township Jive" and "Swinging Axe," and also more complex African folk tunes that have been altered to meet the modern idioms (such as "Sobantu," where a call-and-response chant is reiterated by a saxophone choir and a rhythm ensemble). On "Mntwana," a stomping New Orleans groove is layered on top of a township folk song, and both are transformed into a complex brew of jazz, blues, and ritual music. No matter what the combination of styles, they become -- as Abdullah Ibrahim revealed long ago -- transformed into songs of joy.
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek