It isn't hard to understand why someone who is exploring modern African pop for the first time might feel overwhelmed. There are at least 45 different countries in Sub-Saharan Africa (that is, Africa south of the Islamic Maghreb countries of Arabic North Africa), and African pop includes a long list of different styles of music. Amabutho embrace a form of African pop that is distinctly South African, which makes sense because South Africa is where they are from. Vocally, there are definite parallels between what this group does and what the well-known South African a cappella group Ladysmith Black Mambazo does, but Amabutho's debut album, Sikelela, is far from a cappella music. In fact, Amabutho's extensive use of the marimba is a crucial part of the musical identity that they project on this two-disc set, which consists of a DVD and an audio CD. Sikelela contains a 48-minute live-in-the-studio performance that was filmed/recorded in Johannesburg, South Africa; the same songs are offered on both the DVD and the audio CD, although the DVD contains some bonus material (including an interview and photographs). And whether one is enjoying the CD or the DVD, it is obvious just how important marimbas are to Amabutho's melodic yet consistently percussive sound -- which owes a lot to traditional South African tribal music but nonetheless falls into the South African pop category. The instrumentation is strictly acoustic, combining all those marimbas with various percussion instruments -- and between the Mambazo-ish vocals and the marimbas, Amabutho's sound is quite addictive. Amabutho show considerable promise on this excellent debut.
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AllMusic Review by Alex Henderson
Track Listing - Disc 1
Track Listing - Disc 2