Time to immerse ourselves once again in the latest array of African pop gems gathered together by intrepid compilers Günter Gretz and Jean Trouillet. This time they turn their gaze towards southern Africa to mine the considerable treasures to be found in South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe, which is an appropriate metaphor given the provenance of much of this music. The townships and shebeens that teemed with gold, copper and diamond mine-workers were the birthplace of many of these recordings as guitars rang out, voices proclaimed and rhythm sections rumbled to rouse audiences to dance, to sing, to praise and to defy the yoke of apartheid.
CD One is devoted entirely to South Africa, and we’re ushered in with the siren call of Solomon Linda’s 1939 version of Mbube before being taken on a whistle-stop tour of all the major touch-points of black popular music from the '60s to the '80s. That’s a whistle as in 'penny' in the case of the chugging kwaito music exemplified by Specks Rampura’s brisk tootling on Solo Jump, and it’s but a small stylistic leap to the bubbly mbaqanga beat behind the spunky Township sax jive of West Nkosi and Sipho Mabuse's mighty Jive Soweto. And there's lots more, from the dazzling harmonies of the Mahotella Queens to the gospel-infused soul of the Dark City Sisters.
The atmospheric mbira (thumb piano) music of Zimbabwe's Master Chivero opens the second CD, and with its other-worldly qualities it's easy to see how the white rulers of Rhodesia found it so threatening. Thomas Mapfumo electrified the mbira sound, of course, and here he crops up in his pre-chimurenga (struggle) guise as part of the wonderfully-named Hallelujah Chicken Run Band.
Many will be delighted to see the presence of The Fours Brothers' and Jairos Jiri Band's insistent, guitar-and- horn-based jit music as well. And the Zambian section of the collection throws up some revelations, not least the first Zambian to use electronic instruments, Smokey Haangala, who delivers a charming tune in a gorgeous falsetto vocal. The smoky blues tune Kitty's Blues by Dolly Rathebe is also worthy of note.
With the usual comprehensive sleeve notes and iconic photography, the compilers have once again released a valuable social as well as musical document (check Miriam Makeba's funky pan-African celebration African Convention for an example of where the two meet), but it's the music that really sends the best message here. As recommendable as Volumes 1 and 2.