Various Artists

Long Walk to Freedom: A Tribute to Nelson Mandela

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A compilation spanning the whole of contemporary South African music and its roots from the 1960s onward. The album starts out with Elvis Costello and the Specials performing "Free Nelson Mandela," a 1984 rendition of an anthem that roamed the nation for the duration of Mandela's imprisonment. Then it kicks off the 1960s, focusing on the light vocals and pennywhistle jive prevalent in that decade. Miriam Makeba is featured in her debut recording with the Manhattan Brothers, and a bit of ska slips in for a surprise, well before Lucky Dube's reggae. In the 1970s portion, the focus shifts a bit to group vocals, the ubiquitous mbaqanga, and some electronic beats showing up courtesy of Marari. For the 1980s, they present some of the largest innovators and highlights of South African music, as Mahlathini and the Mahotella Queens provide a song, Lucky Dube's reggae is displayed, and Ladysmith Black Mambazo performs one of the signature songs from its collaboration with Paul Simon (albeit without Simon here). In the 1990s, the Mahotella Queens present a comeback attempt with the classic mbube (aka "The Lion Sleeps Tonight"), the masterful West Nkosi provides a number, the outstanding Soweto String Quartet celebrate the renaming of "Sophiatown," and Ladysmith Black Mambazo performs a congratulatory number to South Africa after the end of apartheid. Over the course of the album, nearly every fad and major style to appear in South African popular music is displayed at least once, with all of the necessary major artists being shown as well (with the possible exception of Hugh Masekela). In some ways, it might be preferable to collect a number of albums, each detailing one of the styles or artists. Given the enormity of that task, however, this compilation stands well to display the whole range within a pair of discs.

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