Ladysmith Black Mambazo

Long Walk to Freedom

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It was a collaboration with a famous American pop star that broke Ladysmith Black Mambazo as an international act in the mid-'80s, and on Long Walk to Freedom they enact a variation on the theme -- only in this case, the project is under their control and the American guests are an eclectic assortment of rock, folk, and pop musicians, who are also joined by pioneering Afro-European chanteuses Zap Mama and a veritable chorus of South African colleagues including Lucky Dube, Hugh Masakela, Thandiswa, and others. You're getting nervous now, and you're right: this is one of those projects that could easily go either way, and in fact it goes both ways. Natalie Merchant brings absolutely nothing of substance or consequence to "Rain Rain Beautiful Rain," nor does Sarah McLachlan contribute much to the group's rather desultory remake of "Homeless." The new version of "Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes" features Melissa Etheridge and Joe McBride, and is underwhelming until the end of the a cappella intro, at which point the band kicks in -- only it's not a band, it's Ladysmith singing all the instrumental parts, and it's electrifying. The Afro-pop summit meeting that is "Shosholoza" works nicely as well. But the album's best tracks are those on which the group sings by itself: "Nomathemba," the opening track, is one of the album's best, and leader Joseph Shabalala's solo "Thula Thula" ends the program on a very strong note. The disc adds a generous program of CD-ROM tracks including music videos for "Raise Your Spirit Higher" (from their previous album) and "Long Walk to Freedom." Imperfect, but recommended.

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