Next Stop Soweto, Vol. 1: Township Sounds from the Golden Age of Mbaqanga

Various Artists

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Next Stop Soweto, Vol. 1: Township Sounds from the Golden Age of Mbaqanga Review

by Thom Jurek

Great Britain’s Strut imprint does it again. Long rumored to be in production, its Next Stop...Soweto series finally lifts off in 2010 with the first of its proposed three volumes. This one, compiled expertly by Duncan Brooker and Frances Gooding, focuses exclusively on mbaqanga, a distinctly township-developed sound created in the 1960s. The term “mbaqanga” is Zulu for “steamed mealie bread.” It referred to common people’s music. It was born as a reaction to the apartheid system’s rather successful campaign to rid black culture of kwela in the early '60s, a music that offered a distinctly African meld of its regional styles with the American influences of jazz, soul, and blues. Mbaqanga was born of the ban, and a new law than banned black groups from singing in English. South African recording studios began experimenting with traditional African pop sounds played on electric instruments and rhythms, adding horns to an electric guitar-bass-and-drums trio; then fusing them with different vocal styles and dances to accompany them in performances, creating a neo-traditional urban music for migrant workers who were driven from rural communities to cities and townships in order to work. This smoking hot compilation presents a treasure-trove of that early music from 1968 through 1975 when mbaqanga began to be fused with other styles of music, with well-known artists such as Mahlathini & His Mahotella Queens, and Reggie Msomi & His Hollywood Jazz Band, as well as Ingoina Le Nyathi, who recorded for imprints as large as Columbia and King, to those who recorded for regional imprints such as Gallo, Zebra, and Tempo. The 20 cuts included here are full of the new musical revolution’s initial male groaning sounds to its flowering with female chorus-led groups. In addition, these cuts also reveal how the instrumental backing began to shift (particularly guitar styles, which became more percussive) and the rhythm -- traditionally in 8/8 -- became more fluid. The liner notes by author David B. Coplan are both historically contextual, beginning in the 1920s, and aesthetically engaging, as well as informative. In addition, the compilers provide photos and complete discographical information. This is an auspicious beginning for what promises to be one of Strut’s more exciting series of releases.

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