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21 June 1999 Like the clear mountain streams that run down from the Drakensberg, where these Splashy Fen Festivals have been regularly held, the music on these two CDs is of the pure and undiluted variety. 35 examples of the wonderful acoustic music produced in South Africa over the past decade, presented here in their live and untouched forms (“No preservatives added!”). A glance through the set list illustrates the wealth of talent on show here, from Jennifer Ferguson, Lesly Rae Dowling and Heather Mac to Dave Goldblum, Vusi Mahlasela, Syd Kitchen, David Ledbetter and many more. From the opening track ‘Chucking Up The Mountain’ by Plagal Cadence, which became the unofficial anthem of this festival, to ‘Makweru’ by Tananas which closes off this double set, ‘Splashy Fen’ is a broad and expansive collection of the finest roots music from South Africa. Many of these artists are not that well known and have been ploughing their own musical furrows for many years, without an appropriate reward. But with David Marks fighting their cause, and diligently recording and archiving their music, there is hope that this intelligent and emotive music could just achieve the recognition it so richly deserves.
The booklet that accompanies this double CD is comprehensive and informative. Each track has its own detailed story and this allows these songs an extra dimension and relevance. The booklet also contains lists of all the artists who have performed at this festival over the past nine years. Highlights include Dorien du Toit’s blues tribute to the late James Phillips. Heather Mac and Mark Harris’ touching ‘Bittersweet’, the Silver Creek Mountain Band’s love song to ‘Jeffreys Bay’, the Famous Roaches’ version of Dave Goldblum’s ‘Sign Language’ and Goldblum’s own version of ‘Say Africa’. To single out these highlights however is to do the whole set a disservice. If soft, gentle, live, acoustic folk music (with a twist of humour) is your bag, then this double CD set is an essential purchase. If you’ve been to a Splashy Fen Festival, then this will bring back strong memories. If you haven’t been, then this will definitely convince you to do so next year!
November 5 – 617
7 June 1999 Fallen in love with any new albums lately? Not a song on the radio or a few tracks on a new CD. No, I’m talking about a whole album, the length that used to fit on a vinyl record. No room for remixes or extra songs that should have been accidentally deleted. Just ten songs that have to be heard from beginning to end (in one sitting preferably), and, no matter how many times you play it through, it still not only amazes you, but always leaves you feeling there’s a lot you’ve missed. It’s rare I know, but still possible.
Abraham is the man behind the words and music on ‘617’, the first release by November 5, and he’s created a piece of music that will hopefully find its way into as many ears as possible, because it is really a wondrous and uplifting album. The opening track, ‘Otis’, is a stirring rocker that mixes scuzzy guitars with a lovely piano melody, but, from then on, the album settles down into an unbroken, beautiful groove. I imagined ‘Otis’ was some kind of tribute to Mr. Redding, but it is in fact a rant at a lift! (“O-tis!…takes you down”). ‘Tell’ slows things down and ‘Wish You Were Here’ is not a Floyd cover but there are complimentary echoes of that song and era. ‘Faces’ builds slowly and emotionally and is followed by track five, called ‘Five’, which is simply five seconds of silence, a kind of cathartic pause in the middle of the album. It seems to work, as ‘Grand Parade’ then rises out of the middle of these songs with its grand pianos and sweet and soaring vocals. ‘I’ll See You Through’ and ‘Wheel’ competently precede ‘Jeu Veux De Toit’ with its orchestral backing and simple melody, enhanced by Tertia’s lovely vocals. Finally, ‘Tonight’ picks up the pace and gracefully brings this absorbing album to a reluctant close.
Few new albums bear back-to-back listenings these days, but this one does. It must be love…
THC – Towards Higher Consciousness
16 May 1999 As the new Millennium approaches, the tribal culture that first evolved through the rave scene has moved a little closer to "nature" and its more natural sounds and herbs. THC are a free-form, and quite large, group of musicians and performers who have succeeded in capturing the exuberance, energy and varied influences of their "goofed jams" on this very interesting album. These five songs are mostly built on the traditional massed drumming with added didjeridoos, percussive instruments and an assortment of samples. It's all a bit rough around the edges, but therein lies its definite appeal.
'Say-grin' is simply a two chord guitar riff played over a bed of djembes. It sounds like one of those late night commune jams but somehow seems to have an added fluency. 'Propaganja' moves off in a reggae direction while 'Bent In The Snakepit' reprises the sound of 'Say-grin' except with some funky "wah-wah" electric guitar over the top. While one cannot expect any of these songs to achieve airplay, this is an album that should be heard as a continuous whole and more as a soundtrack to their exciting live performances then a shot at the charts.
Eidolon - See Saw
12 April 1999 Eidolon began towards the end of 1997 when Kay Vandenberg (vocals, keyboards and piano) and her husband Gregory formed the band with Tanya Bankart (vocals), Stephen Bankart (bass), Derek Ho Hip (guitars), and Derek Garnett (drums). 1998 saw them writing material, gigging and preparing for the recording and release of their debut album, 'See Saw'. This female vocal, melodic rock album was launched at the Roxy Rhythm Bar in Melville and tracks from the album were playlisted on some of the major SA radio stations as well as many of the smaller regional and campus stations. An appearance on M-Net's 'Live@five' television program, as well as complimentary features in the SA magazines, Epic and Clubzine followed. Then, after a mini-tour of the South Coast at the end of 1998, Eidolon began their first national tour in March 1999.
At this stage the group's line-up had changed with the departure of Tanya Bankart. The band also decided to alter their musical direction toward a more "art-rock" sound and a more rocky, less poppy sound. The band still presents a vibrant, interactive live show and has garnered huge interest (and sales of their album) through these performances.
'See Saw', Eidolon's eagerly awaited debut release, is as diverse and compelling as their exciting live shows. These 11 original compositions mostly feature Kay Vandenberg's expressive and adaptable vocals, which add light and colour to the various rock and pop styles on display here. The album was recorded and produced by Eidolon and engineered by Andrew Smith, assisted by Mike Fleming and Niell Pash. Although the band's sound works off the typical combination of a tight rhythm section, evocative guitar licks and cool saxophone touches, Eidolon have enough variety in their songwriting to keep these songs fresh and interesting throughout. 'Reflections' opens the album with a thunderous drum and guitar burst before Kay's voice swoops in with emotion and power. This pattern runs through the album with echoes of Fleetwood Mac, Catatonia and even Skunk Anansie popping up every now and then. But comparisons are unnecessary here as Eidolon have developed their own sound and material and seem set to sit alongside Karma as one of SA's foremost female-fronted rock bands. Other quality tracks include the emotional 'Deep Within', the sweetly sung 'Sometimes', and the closing 'She'. 'See Saw' is a competent debut and a promise of good things to come from Eidolon.
Koos Kombuis - 'Mona Lisa (Die Mooiste Love Songs)'
22 March 1999 A recent insert on the SABC-TV program 'Pasella', featured the newly married "Baard of Gordons Bay" looking relaxed and content in his new home in the Cape. The songs on his 1998 album, 'Madiba Bay', reflected this love and stability that had permeated his life ("Almal wil 'n huisie by die see hê"). It also closed off the awesome trilogy of albums that began with the "paranoia (in Parow-Noord)" of 'Niemandsland And Beyond' and moved through the wandering (wondering?) minstrel years of 'Elke Boemelaar Se Droom'.
But 'Mona Lisa' is more than just what its sweet subtitle implies. While it does gather together all the softer moments from those albums, as well as a handful of other bonus tracks, it also serves as Koos Kombuis' TRC album. The writer Andre Letoit soon realized that he could make a far bigger impact as the protest-folkie Koos Kombuis, and so he did. His music mixed wistful love songs with full-tilt rock 'n roll. His lyrics mirrored and poked fun at the chaos and angst around him but constantly betrayed his inner desire for peace and harmony. Now that he has found it, it's time to forget the pain and forgive. He vented his anger in the unplanned end-of-recording jam that emerged as 'Blameer Dit Op Apartheid', the companion release to 'Madiba Bay'. By contrast, these 17 tracks on 'Mona Lisa' are packed with simple melodies, warm humour and wonderful words and images. There's 'Lisa Se Klavier', 'Bicycle Sonder 'n Slot', 'Atlantis In Jou Lyf', 'Prayer For Port St. Johns' and 'Onder In My Whiskey Glas', all the old favourites and some unfamiliar gems.
Although he spearheaded the 'Alternatief' music revolution of the '80s with Johannes Kerkorrel, in the TV interview he spoke of his dislike for that term. He said they preferred to think that they were the first normal Afrikaners, and that if anyone should be called weird or alternative in those days, it would have to be PW Botha, and not them! He then flashes that enigmatic smile, just like the lady on the CD cover with the bottle of "Tassies" in her hand.
(originally printed in the Cape Times/Top Of The Times March 5 1999)
Nine - Entropy
8 March 1999 From the evocative title of Nine's second album, it is clear that Nine are using the sounds and styles of today's musical trends to achieve a fresh and exploratory direction. 'Entropy', which refers both to the physics 'Chaos Theory' as well as to Freud's "well-known" concept, is not an easy album to access due to its off-beat tendencies and hard-sounding core. These 16 songs exist in the midst of some (spot the origins)
movie sound bytes that add a well-needed catharsis in certain sections of the album. The album exposes the intense emotion of Farrell Adam's vocals and James Reynard's sizzling guitar activities.
This album was recorded at the London Connection Studios in conjunction with Andy Byskup and David Maclean. Jerome Reynard's clattering drums keep all these songs on their toes with a manic energy that also adds a tight but tough edge to most of these songs. 'Lusion' is a scary little number that builds towards a musical apocalypse but slows down as one is expecting it to surge. 'Episode' begins the album after a brief sound byte and immediately alerts one to the urgency and emotion contained throughout the rest of these 58 minutes. 'Live At Last', 'Revolution' and 'Shores Of Consensus' are some of the other stand-out tracks although this is not an album that demands a single to be plucked out of its midst. It works as a quasi-concept album and takes a few listens to truly appreciate the breadth of invention that these four Nines possess.
Busi Mhlongo – 'Urbanzulu'
22 February 1999 On the cover of her 1995 debut album, 'Babhemu', Busi Mhlongo is dressed in traditional Zulu garb. But for this, her latest offering, Busi has gone for a contemporary, slick look and her Grace Jones-type appearance adds credence to the title and intentions of this extraordinary album. Long regarded as one of the stellar female vocalists on the African continent, alongside Miriam Makeba and Letta Mbulu, Mhlongo has pulled out all the stops to produce an album that bristles with attitude, intelligence and one of the most awesome voices heard around these parts for years. Simply put, 'Urbanzulu' will do for Zulu Maskanda music what Juluka achieved through their albums. The sound is traditional but has been surrounded by some fresh and fizzy tunes and arrangements that do full justice to Busi's range, breadth and vision.
Released on the MELT 2000 label and distributed through Nebula BOS, 'Urbanzulu' will not only become the album against which all future similar albums will be judged but will also take Busi Mhlongo's reputation and music into the new Millennium. These 11 songs were written, arranged and produced by Mhlongo, Themba Ngcobo and Mkhalelwa "Spector" Ngwazi, and run a full gamut of emotions and thoughts, all clearly expressed by Mhlongo's sensitive and confident delivery. Mhlongo's voice cries, whoops, yearns, ululates and wraps itself around all these songs, creating a continuity and interest that keeps this album on a completely non-boring level. There are many complimentary similarities to the Juluka sound, with accordions and effervescent acoustic guitars adding a twinkly feel to the vocals. But this is Busi Mhlongo's album and she has grabbed her opportunity to impress with grace, enthusiasm and some very strong material. 'Urbanzulu' is South Africa's first entry in the 1999 'crack the international market' stakes and could go all the way. Busi Mhlongo is a one-person impi and you'd better be prepared to be conquered.
Boo! – Boo!
8 February 1999 This is the debut album from one of the most exciting, popular and strange bands on the current SA music landscape. The thee members of this wild and crazy band are Ampie Omo, Princess Leonie and Chris Chameleon and they've managed to successfully capture the energy of their much-touted live shows on this 12-track album. Although the CD is not titled on the cover, the name 'Monki Punk', which appears on the inner sleeve, accurately describes the contents contained therein. Boo's sound is a mixture of punk, ska, brass and wacky concepts, all held together by Chris Chameleon's in-your-face vocal delivery.
With song title like 'Oo Aa', 'Welkom', 'Krusti', 'Dick's Advys' and
'Soppi', you know you've entered the weird world of Boo! and these songs
jump all over the place despite the tight playing and arrangements.
Mahube – Music From Southern Africa
1 February 1999 This celebratory and exciting album is the latest from the Sheer Sound label. 'Mahube' is the name given to this collection of top Southern African musicians and vocalists who combined to record and release this album that will be performed live in SA at a series of concerts from late January to early February this year.
Eleven prominent artists combined under the direction of Steve Dyer to create this vibrant blend of contemporary and celebratory Southern African styles including Oliver Mtukudzis, Suthukazi Arosi, George Phiri, Feya Faku, Sean Fourie and Barry van Zyl.
The name 'Mahube' means 'New Dawn' in Tswana and reflects these musicians desire to participate in South Africa's reintegration into the cultural life of the African subcontinent. The music is a rich and seamless blend of infectious rhythms, soaring vocals and harmonies and includes songs like 'Ndiwe Muroyi', 'Ziwere', 'Bambanani' and the title track. The intricate and evocative harmonies are under-pinned by a wonderful brass section and surrounded by a clear and sympathetic arrangement. The band's enthusiasm spills out over this jazzy and traditional album and I'm sure 'Mahube' will gain the recognition it deserves as a result of the upcoming concerts. (7)
Jazz Hounds - Dogma
18 January 1999 'Dogma' is the Jazz Hounds follow up to their successful 'Every Dog Has Its Day' debut album and continues the doggy pun titles and exhilarating and fresh sound of that album. The Jazz Hounds are a Pretoria group who's roots go back to the '70s when guitarist Greg Georgiades and flautist Chris Tokalon began playing together in an assortment of incarnations. Georgiades is a talented guitarist in the Santana mode and he has always striven to fuse his love for fusion and rock with the indigenous sounds of South Africa. Chris Tokalon (the man in the cap) has played with Tony Cox, Steve Newman and practically a who's who of SA jazz-funk. Together with bassist Leon Ecroignard and percussionist Wynand van der Walt, these two have crafted another album brimful of jazz, funk and SA styles which compares easily with anything Tananas has produced in the past few years.
This CD has a crisp and spacey production coupled with a bunch of delectable songs and arrangements that typify their Pretoria jazz sound. Opening track 'Niteflight' sets the scene with its bass-driven groove and Tokalon and Georgiades flourishes. Georgiades also plays the Oud, which is a North African Arabic fretless lute, to give this music an all round Pan African sound. Tracks like 'Salty', 'Dance In Trance' and 'Déjà Vu' swish by with a delicate energy and melodious mix. As a whole, 'Dogma' is a strong and satisfying SA album to kick off 1999 and is very recommended.
Jorge Carlos – Trip of Africa
21 December 1998 Jorge Carlos Arrigone is an Argentinian-born South African musician and engineer who works out of the Red Hot Rhythm Section studios in Cape Town. After producing numerous soundtracks for TV and movie commercials, Jorge took over a year to produce the album 'Satellite Café', by his wife Ayala and then settled down to record this, his debut album. Although very influenced by the trance music styles currently in vogue, Jorge has added a whole range of African sound bytes, samples and cutting-edge rock devices to create this energetic, evocative and completely essential SA album. 'Cape Axe' utilizes live rock guitar licks to beef up a cooking trance track while 'Dye@Koke' (cool song title!) is possibly the first African trance track with its selection of African sounds and styles.
Jorge Carlos played all the instruments on this album and produced and engineered it as well. Songs like 'Electric Ocean' (not that web company's theme tune!), 'Majordome' and 'Calling Of The Whales' surge along on a bed of beats, sequencers and sound effects. The CD boasts a beautifully shot cover and booklet that for once creates a package that highlights the content of this album to its best advantage.
This album runs for over 70 minutes and can be played loud for a non-stop party rave or softly for those laid-back sunny afternoons. It has a fresh and original sound and its textures and pacing makes 'Trip Of Africa' the first trance album that can safely crossover to the non-dance market. With several overseas companies showing interest in this album, it's kudos to Nebula BOS for having the vision to release this album as part of its "Indie Music Explosion" distribution campaign. There is a strong feeling that this exceptional album could just be this new record company's first big hit and deservedly so. 'Trip Of Africa' is a shimmering, exciting and "trippy" album that will be around well into the year 2000 and beyond. And keep your eyes and ears peeled for further music by this versatile and talented musician. Jorge Carlos has arrived and SA music will never be the same again. Highly recommended!
Blunt the Banned – The Kutz
14 December 1998 Blunt ("the banned"), as the members like to describe themselves, has also laid claim to being "South Africa's first, live, original, hip hop band". The "first" part is debatable, as they have only been around since the middle of 1997. "Live" is accurate, as the band is a completely live act (except for their CD) with real drums, guitars and keyboards. There is also some beat-boxing and a DJ doing some scratching and sampling. The band's main influence is hip hop but due to the members varied musical interests, the focus has shifted to a more experimental direction in terms of their sound and performance; hence the "original" tag! At the Art's Festival in Grahamstown in 1998, Blunt participated in an alternative production of Shakespeare's 'A Midsummer Night's Dream'. The band composed a live hip hop score, which was performed during this acclaimed show. Blunt then performed at the OppiKoppi Bushveld Blast on the Campus and Hip Hop stages before finishing off a successful outing with a wild performance on the Martell main stage. They also walked off as winners of the Caltex "Battle Of The Bands" competition.
Griffith and Hamish Jeppe, the co-founders and lead vocalists, were previously with the rap outfit, Southside Unit (formerly L.A.P.D). The bands Gunk and Reggae Project contributed Graham Blak (drums) and Michael Jones (guitar), respectively. Phillip Bardone (keyboards and bass) later joined from The Streaks and Backroom Jungle.
So, with a (blunt) sword of expectation hanging over their heads, this five-man hip hop group have released this debut seven-track EP with confidence, attitude and a keen grasp of this contemporary hard-edged sound. 'NBK' opens (and closes) the album with a short, menacing intro to the thunderous 'Drop Da Bomb'. 'Way We Do' slows down to a percussive and two-note keyboard pulse and Rollin' Strollin' uses voices, sirens, helicopters and overlappin' rappin' to create a thematic and sinister piece.
'Plannin' A Robbin' could have been lifted straight off a Fun Lovin' Criminals' album with its laid-back, '60s groove and softer vocals. 'Wonderweed' is a stoned babble over a cool, grungy guitar and 'NBK' (Natural Born Killer) pops up again, in a longer form, to end this assured and exciting album on a threatening note. With 'The Kutz', Blunt have clearly shown that all the nuances of late '90s hip hop are well within their collective capabilities and their first full album should be a killer! (7)
Karma - One Day Soon
7 December 1998 Karma-Ann Swanepoel's debut solo album arrives on a wave of expectation following the success of the previous Henry Ate album, 'Slap In The Face'. As songwriter and vocalist for Henry Ate, Karma fulfilled her early promise as an SA artist of great potential. The band split up however and the newly formed Primedia Music decided to surround Karma with a new band. They retained Henry Ate veteran Julian Sun on backing vocals and guitar and added ex-Bright Blue and Mango Groove drummer Peter Cohen and Brendan ou Tim on bass. Max Mikula also contributed some subtle guitar textures and shadings to the album. Willem Moller and Marvin Moses were asked to help Karma with the production of 'One Day Soon' and the resulting album is sure to cement Karma's already glowing reputation.
Karma wrote all these songs and they all have a similar feel and tone with the intricate melodies and intelligent lyrics emerging after a few listens. As the first single, 'Dr Pepper' could have been replaced by at least six of these songs but does its job with a light, poppy performance. The title track opens the album with an assured and confident "cheers' to an ex-friend. 'Indian Giver' is a slow and emotional ballad and 'Delorise' Point' has a sassy Michelle Shocked-type, cynical vocal and skippy beat. 'Days Like These' is a gorgeous, accordion-backed song and 'Pachabal' is a simple melodic tribute to this classical composer focusing on the emotional undercurrent of unrequited love. This very ("Karma Chameleon") green cover adorned with simple close-up shots of Karma illustrates the understated intentions of this excellent album. Karma's songs are uniformly interesting and evocative and the backing and production is geared to emphasise the strength of her compositions. 'One Day Soon' will satisfy all those Henry Ate fans and bring many more new fans into Karma's orbit. This album is simply and succintly "Good Karma" and is really worth buying.
Johannes Kerkorrel – Tien Jaar Later
30 November 1998 One of the founders of the modern Afrikaans rock movement, Johannes Kerkorrel has released a 15-song compilation of his best songs spanning his first decade on the SA and European music scenes. This controversial singer and songwriter played his first gig at the Green Room in Cape Town in 1986. He then moved to Johannesburg and began working with an alternative group of musician and artists including Koos Kombuis (then still known as Andre Letoit). These two performed as a duo and then as a full band which became known as the seminal Gereformeede Blues Band. Under this guise, Kerkorrel and Kombuis (and James Phillips) led the way for the emerging Afrikaans music renaissance with 'Die Eerste Alternatiewe Afrikaans Rock Concert' in Johannesburg in 1988 and the subsequent meteoric and controversial 'Voelvry' tour, which showcased these new, rebellious Afrikaans musicians to the whole nation. This coincided with the release of the first GBB album, the very-banned 'Eet Kreef' and its lovely single 'Hillbrow'.
Kerkorrel then left the oppressive SA musical climate for a stay in Amsterdam where he connected with many other exiles and performed sell-out concerts in Belgium and France. 'The album 'Bloudruk' followed and Kerkorrel spent the next few years travelling to and from SA and collaborating with musicians like the Dutch star, Stef Bos and Thandi Klaaasen. This album was a hit in the Benelux countries and established Kerkorrel as a European star where he performed many concerts. In 1994 he released his third album, 'Cyanide In The Beefcake' and toured SA with his all-SA star band. He won the FNB music award in 1995 for "best rock music performance" and a documentary on him by Ken Kirsten won an Artes award as well. While living back in Cape Town he released 'Ge-Trans-For-Meer' which won more awards and produced a series of sold-out shows, highlighting the music on this album. Now a star in both SA and Europe, Johannes Kerkorrel continues to mine the rich seam of Afrikaans music that he helped to expose. The songs on this quality compilation run from his first hit, the punky 'Sit Dit Af' through other milestones like 'Hillbrow', 'BMW', 'Halala Africa', 'River Of Love', 'Onder In My Whiskey Glas', 'Al Die Berge Nog So Blou' and the closing (satirical) 'Wat 'N Vriend Het Ons In PW'. A wonderful and nostalgic album by one of South Africa's biggest and most important artists of the '90s. Essential!
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