South Africa is a yet another fabulous addition to a long line of expertly produced world music collections from Putumayo. This time around we find ourselves in the heart of a profoundly broad and rich cultural environment that has spawned so many styles of music it is impossible present a complete overview in one volume. That being said Putumayo has done a fantastic job in setting a more modest, but equally admirable goal of giving a sampling of particularly engaging cuts designed to foster a passion and interest in the listener, that will hopefully inspire one to explore further and drink deeply from the bottomless well of South African musical heritage.
This collection has achieved this goal in a very interesting way. The music contained on this record is designed to be incredibly accessible by way of presenting the cutting edge of the pan-African music scene today, paired with some of the best of the old school, and it is just that. I can’t imagine even a casual fan of world music not finding something on this collection to catch their ear.
For me the highlights of the collection include “Ngahlulele” an ethereal performance by the always Grammy Award-winning Soweto Gospel Choir, which would undoubtedly compliment any languorous summer day. On “Work,” roots artist Zorro heats things up, bringing the one-drop funk home and letting the band simmer under his soulful vocal leadership. Nibs Van Der Spuy drops in with a strong guitar and voiced based tune that is full of the multitude of mingling influences that is so often a key factor keeping the S.A. music scene so fresh. This is exemplified by the fiddle accompaniment weaving its way through the composition.
The Soul Brothers got me on my feet and dancing immediately with their undeniably grooving organ intro, and Blk Sonshine gives us a taste of the Hip Hop influences currently popular throughout Africa with the pocket beat boxing that opens their contribution, “Nkosi.”
Miriam Makeba, always provides me overwhelming comfort from the moment she begins to sing. She takes her rightful place on this compilation with a classic, an intoxicating mix of kwela and straight ahead clarinet-buoyed swing on “Orlando,” This track is so drenched with her charisma and velvety tone that it really justifies the purchase of this collection on its own. All the other cuts are fantastic, but I feel they would not have the same power without the context provided by Makeba who is undoubtedly the progenitor of so much music in S.A. and worldwide.
The overall vibe I felt while listening to this record was one of hope. With the anniversaries of independence being celebrated in a number of African nations in 2010, and the potential for a renaissance of global proportions, there is no more appropriate way to communicate this than by making a joyful noise as South Africans have always done so well.