Music Reviews
Next Stop… Soweto

Next Stop… Soweto

Vol. 1: Township Sounds From The Golden Age Of Mbaqangwa


I always get lost with world beat music. It sounds cool, but there’s a rhythmic dissonance that eventually wears on my Western ears. That is to say, a little goes a long way. But an occasional sample of this collection of 1970s-vintage South African music is sweet, and lets you know there are other sounds out there. The style is referred to as “township jive,” and it has loose ties with Western jazz while relying on local polyrhythm, thumb pianos, and whatever instruments could be rigged in the poverty of apartheid. The result is a bouncy, infectious sound, and no small amount of work went into collecting this album of old 45s and tapes. The sound is clean with few artifacts, and you can get it on vinyl to complete the retro experience.

With 20 tracks, this is a thorough collection. Opener “Sivenoe” by the Melotone Sisters with Amaquola Band sounds completely African, with a plaintive male voice calling and a much more upbeat female trio responding. At the end of the record, the jazzy “Happy Africa” by Iza Wena sounds straight out of a Chicago club in the ’30s. Along the way we visit such unique songs as Boy-Nze Na Maqueens’ “I’Smodeni.” Reminiscent of country swing are the Germanic-looking Ubhekitshe Namajongosi on “Umaduna Omnyama” and the Jamaican reggae influence of “Soul Chakari” from Reggie Msomi and His Hollywood Jazz Band. While every cut on this collection is unquestionably from the exotic world of the townships, the influences are worldwide. Whether spread by missionaries, A&R men, or most likely by shortwave radio, our Western sound has made it around the world, and the locals have picked and chosen what they like. It’s an interesting stew.

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