Saturday, October 04, 2008

The Indestructible Beat Of Soweto

At the risk of pointing out the screamingly obvious, compilations generally tend to fall into two camps: the ones that you make for someone (or very occasionally, for yourself), and the ones you buy that are ready-curated. There have been a handful over the years that have genuinely become legendary in their own right: Lenny Kaye's compilation Nuggets, which compiles 60s garage psychedelic sounds, perhaps being one of the most famous.

But it's this one The Indestructible Beat Of Soweto that I want to focus on today. Put together by Trevor Herman and Jumbo Van Renan, this might be responsible for opening up the world to so much of what has come to be known as 'World Music.' That's a label that a lot of people increasingly have a fair amount of opposition to, perhaps not unreasonably. But as an article here at Roots World points out, it was the first exposure that many people had to music from Southern Africa.

The styles within are hugely varied, from the a capella sound of Ladysmith Black Mambazo to jive to Udokotela Shange Namajaha's opener which seems to include so many different types of music within just the opening number. If you ever felt that the dance/electronica section of record shops was becoming too much of a catch-all, ask yourself why these artists wouldn't be featured there. Even to those who know very little about Southern African music -and I most definitely include myself in that- can listen to these twelve tracks and appreciate just how many different styles were at work here. At the time South Africa was pretty much the world's pariah nation, due to Apartheid, and whilst there was a lot of opposition to the policies of that, there was also little awareness of the music that came from the townships. This album changed that.

It's one of the records that made The Wire's 100 important Records Ever Made List where Mark Sinker had this to say:

'The Indestructible Beat Of Soweto (Earthworks/Virgin) This one record justifies all the dully worthy blah committed in the name of World Music. Trevor Herman's and Jumbo Van Renan's inspired compilation tells an essentially mythological tale of community resilience and survival, reaches into the gorgeous, raw-gritty sound of an already-vanished past for one last moment, without ever denying that the music can only really be so potently rediscovered because of the effects of a barbarously retarded social set-up: because Soweto's will to change was so violently thwarted. The music remains as tensile as it's witty: and old troupers like Mathlathini will later clearly enjoy recreating their roles to cartoon perfection, if that's what sympathetic whitey overseas wants.'

The rock world sat up and took notice. The albums made subsequently that both 'borrowed' ideas from this record have been well-documented, analysed and argued over. Forgot that, just for now, and check out this compilation.

Udokotela Shange Namajaha -'Awungilobolele.' mp3

Ladysmith Black Mambazo - Nansi Imali.' mp3

If you like this, check out the album (available on eMusic).

And as ever, let me know what you think!


JuzNik said...

I've been a secret fan of LBM for some time now, but Awungilobolele are new to me, thanks for the intro Ed :)

Ed said...

Ach, you're welcome!