NEXT STOP SOWETO-ZULU ROCK, AFRO DISCO AND MBQANGA 1975-1985.

NEXT STOP SOWETO-ZULU ROCK, AFRO DISCO AND MBQANGA 1975-1985.

Back in October 2014, Strut Records released the latest volume in their critically acclaimed Next Stop Soweto series, Next Stop Soweto Presents Spirit of Malombo: Malombo, Jabula, Jazz Afrika 1966-1984. It was released to widespread critical acclaim, and lauded as the finest instalment in the Next Stop Soweto series. So much so, that Next Stop Soweto Presents Spirit of Malombo: Malombo, Jabula, Jazz Afrika 1966-1984 was hailed as one of the best compilations of 2014. Many thought that following up Next Stop Soweto Presents Spirit of Malombo: Malombo, Jabula, Jazz Afrika 1966-1984, wasn’t going to be easy. 

Given there had been a gap of four years between volumes two and three, music lovers resigned themselves for a wait. However, it was always worthwhile. Compiler Duncan Brooker, who has masterminded the previous volumes of the Next Stop Soweto series, had never let them down. He’s a student of South African music and knows where the musical gold is buried. Duncan has been busy, unearthing more musical gold, that’ll feature on the soon to be released, fourth instalment of the Next Stop Soweto series. 

Just five months after the release of the critically acclaimed Next Stop Soweto Presents Spirit of Malombo: Malombo, Jabula, Jazz Afrika 1966-1984, Strut Records will release Next Stop Soweto-Zulu Rock, Afro Disco and Mbqanga 1975-1985 on 23rd March 2015.  Next Stop Soweto-Zulu Rock, Afro Disco and Mbqanga 1975-1985 features fifteen tracks from what was a hugely important period in South African musical and political history.

The ten year period that Next Stop Soweto-Zulu Rock, Afro Disco and Mbqanga 1975-1985 covers, was a hugely  important one for South Africa. At the start of this period, 1975, South Africa was tightly controlled by Apartheid. This had been the case since 1970, when non-white political representation was abolished. As a result of this legislation, a generation of black South Africans were denied education and health care. If these services were available, often they were third rate. That wasn’t the end of the segregation. Even neighbourhoods, transport and even beaches were segregated. It was a shameful period in South African history, one that prove costly for South Africa and South Africans of all race.

Given what was going on in South Africa, the international community had to bring in sanctions against South Africa. Soon, trade embargoes were brought against South Africa. Sanctions meant countries couldn’t trade with South African. However, with South Africa rich in gold and diamonds, some companies defied the sanctions. Mostly, though sanctions resulted in Western companies not trading with South Africa. Similarly, many sportspeople and musicians refused to tour South Africa.

Throughout the Apartheid era, many nations refused to send teams to South Africa. Individual sportspeople also refused to tour South Africa. It was the same with musicians. Many musicians refused point blank to tour South Africa. That was despite being offered huge sums of money. Those that toured South Africa, were blacklisted. However, despite the lack of musicians touring South Africa, Western music influence the evolution of South African music.

Everything from disco, rock, funk, punk, prog rock and soul were influencing the latest generation of South African musicians and producers like Hamilton Nzimande. They were absorbing what can only be described as eclectic selection of music. This includes everything from War and Edwin Star and prog rock pioneers Yes and producer Norman Whitfield. They influenced South African collectives like Xoliso, Marumo and Kabasa who feature on Next Stop Soweto-Zulu Rock, Afro Disco and Mbqanga 1975-1985. These collectives fuse rock and soul with Zulu lyrics and township harmonies. It’s a potent and pioneering fusion of influences. Sadly, it struggled to be heard by a wider audience.

Again, this was down to South Africa’s oppressive and regressive apartheid laws. Things got worse after the Soweto Uprising in 1976. After that, bands struggled to find venues where they could play live. Often, restrictions were imposed upon their movements. Then when they found a venue, they would come under the ever watchful eye of the secret police. However, at least a few radio stations, including Radio Bandu would play their music.

For South African musicians, especially black musicians, it wasn’t easy to have their music heard by a wider audience. Eventually, a few radio stations decided to make a stand. This included Radio Bandu. They were one of a group of radio stations who would play music by collectives like Xoliso, Marumo and Kabasa. Despite their music being played on some radio stations, still these musicians couldn’t make a living out of music. So, they had to hold down a day job. Music became more like a hobby, than a way of making a living. Eventually, that would change.

By the early eighties, apartheid was on its last legs. Many South Africans realised things had to change. By 1983, a new constitution was passed, implementing what was called the Tricameral Parliament. This was another step towards ridding South Africa of apartheid. A few years later, black homelands were declared nation states. South Africa was well on its way to becoming a modern country, fit for purpose and the 21st Century. One of its up-and-coming exports was its music.

As the eighties dawned, what was initially called world music exploded in popularity. One of the many nations at the vanguard of the world music explosion was South Africa. Hugh Masakella, Mahotella Queens and Ladysmith Black Mambazo were among the first wave of South African artists to take the West by storm. Since then, South African music has become hugely popular, and compilations like Strut Records Next Stop Soweto-Zulu Rock, Afro Disco and Mbqanga 1975-1985 are eagerly awaited. 

No wonder. Compilations like Next Stop Soweto-Zulu Rock, Afro Disco and Mbqanga 1975-1985 are a musical treasure trove offering musical riches aplenty. Next Stop Soweto-Zulu Rock, Afro Disco and Mbqanga 1975-1985 features fifteen tracks that show how South African music was evolving during this period. This includes contributions from Saitana, Movers, Abafana Bama Soul, Damara, Harari and The Drive. They’re just a few of the artists on Next Stop Soweto-Zulu Rock, Afro Disco and Mbqanga 1975-1985. With quality like this, choosing the highlights of Next Stop Soweto-Zulu Rock, Afro Disco and Mbqanga 1975-1985 isn’t going to be easy.

Opening Next Stop Soweto-Zulu Rock, Afro Disco and Mbqanga 1975-1985 is Unga Pfula A Chi Pfalo, a track from Kabasa. Their music was a fusion of funk, jazz, rock and soul. That’s apparent from Unga Pfula A Chi Pfalo a track from their sophomore album Searching. It was released on Atlantic in 1981. Unga Pfula A Chi Pfalo is without doubt, one of Searching’s highlight. It’s a fusion of Western and South African music. With its combination of jazz, funk, rock and Zulu lyrics, there’s no better way to open Next Stop Soweto-Zulu Rock, Afro Disco and Mbqanga 1975-1985. You’re left wanting more, much more.

From the opening bars of The Actions’ Kokro-Ko (Hide and Seek) you’re hooked. It’s an irresistible and joyous fusion of Afro-beat, funk and soul. The Actions get into the groove, combining equal measures Afro-beat and funk. As for the vocal, it’s sung in a call and response style. Forever the showman, The Actions lead singer drives the rest of the group to even greater heights, on what’s essentially a joyous and irresistible call to dance. 

Almon Memela released his one and only album Funky Africa in 1975. It was released on Atlantic, and showcases one of South Africa’s best kept secrets. Recorded at Superdisc Studio’s Johannesburg, and produced by Almon Memela, Funky Africa features ten tracks. The final track on Funky Africa, which was was The Things We Do In Soweto. It’s uber funky, jazz-tinged and soulful. Quite simply, The Things We Do In Soweto is a truly timeless track from Almon Memela. 

Marumo are another band who only released one album. It was Modiehi, which was released on the Spade label in 1982. Produced by West Nkosi, it’s another fusion of Western and South African music. The Marumo collective combine elements of funk, gospel, soul and African rhythms with Zulu lyrics. The result is funky, soulful, spiritual and truly uplifting.

For anyone who likes their music soulful, funky and dance-floor friendly, then they’ll love Saitana’s 1,2,3. Slow and funky, the rhythm section and keyboards provide a mesmeric and funky backdrop for the vocal. It’s truly soulful, and is the finishing touch to this  dance-floor friendly hidden gem.

The Movers were one of the most prolific South African bands. Their recording career began in 1969, and lasted right through until the early eighties. They recorded everything for a variety of  labels, including South African budget labels. This included funk, soul and disco. One of The Movers’ best disco cuts was Soweto Disco. However, there’s more to Soweto Disco than disco. Everything from Afro-beat, funk, jazz and disco can be heard on Soweto Disco, a floor-filler from The Movers.

Xoliso are another of the collectives from the South African townships. Their music was played on Radio Bandu, following the Soweto Uprising in 1976. Straight away, it’s apparent that Xoliso are a talented group of musicians. There’s a rocky influence before Xoliso combine Zulu lyrics with soul, funk,  jazz and Afro-beat. It’s a tantalising fusion of influences and musical genres

Damara are another of South African music’s best kept secrets. They never enjoyed the same success as their contemporaries. However, they made some melodic and soulful music. This includes Mmamakhabtha. It’s a fusion of musical genres. Elements of Afro-beat, funk, jazz, rock and soul shine through on what’s a glittering hidden musical  gem.

When Harari were founded in the late sixties, they were known as The Beaters. However during a tour through Rhodesia in the seventies, The Beaters decided to change their name to Harari. This marked a change in fortune for Harari. Their fusion of Afro-beat, rock, funk and fusion  proved popular. They released their debut album Genesis in 1977. Their sophomore album Mañana followed in 1978. Kala-Harari-Rock was released on the Gallo label in 1979. It features Give, a truly innovative sounding track. Harari make good use of synths, adding a proto boogie sound. The rhythm section add a disco influence, while Masike Mohapi delivers a vocal masterclass. He’s aided and abetted by gospel tinged harmonies. When they combine with the organ, the gospel influence intensifies, and you find yourself worshipping at Harari’s altar.

Isaac and The Sakie Special Band are another band who’ve been influenced by the disco sound. That’s apparent from the get-go. Get Down is a soulful, funky slice of disco with a spiritual twist. It’s guaranteed to fill any dance-floor, and just like many of the tracks on Next Stop Soweto-Zulu Rock, Afro Disco and Mbqanga 1975-1985  is timeless.

Closing Next Stop Soweto-Zulu Rock, Afro Disco and Mbqanga 1975-1985 is The Drive’s Ain’t Sittin’ Down Doin’ Nothing. It’s another funky track, with a jazzy twist. There’s also an Afro-beat influence in this mesmeric and sultry funky track where The Drive, another of South Africa’s long forgotten groups showcase their considerable skills.

Many thought that following up Next Stop Soweto Presents Spirit of Malombo: Malombo, Jabula, Jazz Afrika 1966-1984, wasn’t going to be easy. However, they hadn’t reckoned on Duncan Brooker’s in-depth knowledge of South African music. He knows where musical gold is buried in South Africa. There’s certainly plenty on musical gold and hidden gems on Next Stop Soweto-Zulu Rock, Afro Disco and Mbqanga 1975-1985.

So good is the music on Next Stop Soweto-Zulu Rock, Afro Disco and Mbqanga 1975-1985, that choosing just a few of the compilation’s highlights was impossible. In the end, I picked ten of the fifteen tracks. I could just as easily have picked any of the tracks on Next Stop Soweto-Zulu Rock, Afro Disco and Mbqanga 1975-1985. It’s not often you can say that about a compilation. However, Next Stop Soweto-Zulu Rock, Afro Disco and Mbqanga 1975-1985 is crammed full of quality music. As music goes, Next Stop Soweto-Zulu Rock, Afro Disco and Mbqanga 1975-1985, which will be released by Strut Records on 23rd March 2015 is an eclectic compilation that oozes quality.

With contributions from Kabasa, The Actions, Almon Memela, Saitana, Movers,, Damara, Harari and The Drive, Next Stop Soweto-Zulu Rock, Afro Disco and Mbqanga 1975-1985 is case of all killer, and no filler. That’s what we’ve come to expect from the Next Stop Soweto series. It’s now one of the most eagerly awaited compilation series. That will continue to be the case, as long as Strut Records release compilations as good as Next Stop Soweto-Zulu Rock, Afro Disco and Mbqanga 1975-1985. It’s a worthy addition to the Next Stop Soweto series. I’ll go even further than that, Next Stop Soweto-Zulu Rock, Afro Disco and Mbqanga 1975-1985 is the best instalment in the Next Stop Soweto series. One listen to Next Stop Soweto-Zulu Rock, Afro Disco and Mbqanga 1975-1985, and you’re sure to agree.

NEXT STOP SOWETO-ZULU ROCK, AFRO DISCO AND MBQANGA 1975-1985.

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