Various Artists

South Africa: Eye of the Hunter

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It doesn't make any more sense to talk about "South African" music than it does to talk about "American" or "European" music. From township jive to mbaqanga to marabi to Afrikaans folk music, the stylistic spectrum of South African music is huge. All of this is to say that if much of the music on South Africa: Eye of the Hunter sounds less than entirely "authentic," it may be in part because the concept of musical authenticity counts for no more in South Africa than it does in the United States. Fusions and cross-cultural collaborations are the rule, not the exception, and if Herman Tladi's fun and funky "Noyana" comes across as a bit smooth and synthetic, so what? What matters is that it's fun and funky. It also doesn't matter that Suthukazi Arosi's contributions (all five of them) tend to swing in a distinctly American way; what matters is that they tend to be boring and self-indulgent. And herein lies the problem with this sporadically thrilling album: it feels thrown together. Fully nine of its 14 tracks are by either Arosi or a polyracial pop collective called Egyptian Nursery; Arosi is responsible for none of the album's highlight tracks, while Egyptian Nursery contribute three: the serenely lovely "Distance," the funkily gorgeous "God's Window," and the soulful "Desert Stream" (which features both stunning female lead vocals and a very nice French rap interlude). The other high points come courtesy of RSL, whose "Elungelo" takes traditional isicathamiya singing and places it in a bracing drum-and-bass context; and from Tladi, with that fun and funky opening track. The rest is wildly uneven in quality, though even the most ill-conceived tracks have a certain value as curiosities.

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