April 1st, 2010
Catalog No.: STRUT054CD
Formats: CD; MP3
Release Date: February 23, 2010
Next Stop … Soweto is the first in a series of three releases by Strut exploring underground South African music from the late 1960s and ’70s. The current album focuses on mbaqanga music released by independent artists for the local market. Arising in the South African urban nightlife scene under the apartheid, mbaqanga music (also known as “township jive”) fuses western instrumentation with South African vocal styles and is often described by scholars as a mixture of marabi and kwela street music—both genres noted for their commonalties with jazz music.
Instead of simply remastering and reissuing readily available Township music by widely recognized mbaqanga musicians, such as Simon ‘Mahlathini’ Nkabinde and the Mahotella Queens, compilers Duncan Brooker and Francis Gooding went the extra distance to find short run 45 rpm discs by lesser known artists and bands. Although Nkabinde and the Mahotella Queens are included, the vast majority of these artists failed to cross over into international market. It’s quite a coup for Strut just to provide South African pop fans and researchers with access to so many hard to come by recordings.
Brooker’s previous work includes Afro-Rock, an album which is frequently touted as one of the most influential and important compilations of ’70s Afro funk and soul ever to be released. Its popularity inspired a series of compilations and reissues of African popular music by labels such as Strut, Soundway, and Analog Africa for consumption by non-African markets. Originally released through Brooker’s Kona Records in 2002, Strut has just reissued Afro-Rock as part of its 2010 catalog.
The commercial release of Next Stop … Soweto comes packaged with extensive liner notes by historian Francis Gooding along with reproductions of archival photos, but unfortunately the booklet wasn’t included with the promo copy used for this review. Since Gooding has composed similar notes for releases such as Strut’s Calypsoul 70, his skills and expertise are undoubtedly commensurate for this task, but our readers will need to assess this for themselves.
Since many of the releases comprising the compilation are so rare and are generally by obscure performers, the lack of liner notes makes it extremely difficult to comment on the individual tracks. As is to be expected with short runs by independent labels, the amount of polish on the performances varies, but in many ways this enhances the value of the album by giving listeners snapshots of the overall mbaqanga music scene as opposed to only highlighting the superstars who have come to serve as the primary representatives of the genre over the years. This said, all of the performances are well-selected and enjoyable to listen to, making this a worthy addition for libraries and world music enthusiasts interested in expanding their collection of African popular music.
Reviewed by Ronda L. Sewald
Review Genre(s): World Music