various artists, |
Smooth Africa II:
Exploring the Soul
(Heads Up, 2003)
This is the second album produced under the personal guidance of Heads Up president Dave Love and keyboardist Joe McBride. It brings together African and American jazz artists for an encore performance drawing on the musical legacy of the emerging new South Africa.
Smooth Africa II contains 12 compositions. After a cosmopolitan jazzy opening number by Jimmy Dludlu, the listener finds himself squarely in the Dark Continent, with one of those inimitable performances for which South African vocalists are so well known. "Abezizwe" by the formation Ladysmith Black Mambazo will sound very recognizable to those familiar with Paul Simon's Graceland project. The group's leader, John Shabalala, met with Simon during his visit to South Africa in the 1980s and introduced him to the Isicathamiya genre, which finds its origins in the black mining communities.
Another magnificent sample of indigenous African singing is "Mangase" by Shaluza Max -- a musical omnivore, who started out in gospel choirs, traversed the Johannesburg jazz circuit, signed on for a blockbuster musical before lending his voice to the movie The Lion King and writing the track for a classic South African movie, Jock of the Bushveld. The very melodious "Neria" by Zimbabwean singer Oliver "Tuku" Mtukudzi deserves mention as well.
At the other end of the spectrum are the jazz compositions performed by some of the American participants in this project. Andy Narell, Joe McBride and the band Spyro Gyra have successfully merged their U.S. roots with the musical traditions and instrumentation of Africa in numbers such as "Adderley Street," "Punch," "Yebo" and "Cape Town Love." But Moses Khumalo and Prince Kupi show that also South Africans are perfectly capable of fusing together their African origins with sophisticated "big city" jazz or even the sounds of the Caribbean. Soweto vocalist Gloria Bosman and Cape Town guitarist Allou April occupy a middle ground, where more of the African atmosphere is retained.
Smooth Africa II is another fine musical celebration of the Rainbow Coalition that guides South Africa into a new era.