Various Artists

Kwaito: South African Hip Hop

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This compilation of '90s urban youth dance music may be subtitled South African Hip Hop, but the main musical cues for Kwaito are the minimalist programmed rhythms and electronic keyboard hooks of classic mid-'80s house from Chicago. And both those styles are anathema to older-generation world music fans who embraced the vintage sound of Mahlathini & the Mahotella Queens because it was built on those nice soul and reggae influences more than the dreaded disco or execrable electronica variations. The house flavor is transparent in the ghostly keyboard hook of Brenda Fassie's "Qula" and Bongo Maffin's "Amadlozi." And M'Du's "Makhamisa" gets a very spare, almost Chic/Soul II Soul-style midtempo throb with synth strings groove going. Aba Shante's more energetic "Come Get Me" could easily be a South African equivalent of early Chicago house queen Liz Torres or the hit "Show Me Love" by Robin S. And the chorus to king of kwaito Arthur's "Yu Make Me Go Mmm" ("Baby, yu make me go mmm/Baby, you look so nice") may sound monumentally clich├ęd (hell, it is), but you can't deny it cuts to the core essence of dancefloor interaction. The tracks with a recognizably South African musical element, be it the electro-mbaqanga melodic riff of Fassie's "Vula Ndlela" or the trad feel of Spokes "H"'s unmemorable "Wara Wara," mostly surface near the end. Jimmy B.'s "Make Em Bounce" is the only example of mix culture, joining generations with rap, beats, and reggae-tinged keyboards applied to a sample of the Mahlathini & the Mahotella Queens classic "Kazet." Arthur brings back the haunting house keyboard to anchor "Kaffir," a strong condemnation of the "k-word" used as a racist insult by Afrikaners toward South African blacks. Kwaito is a hit-and-miss introduction -- most of these maintenance level grooves have their moments but they are similar and they do begin to run together. Earthworks deserves credit for releasing it -- and some luck as well, since the disc's natural dance music audience normally doesn't explore this far afield for its grooves and the world music crew that usually does search South African music out much prefers vintage styles over any modern dancefloor mix.

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