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Magic Cactus - Things
In retrospect, 1997 will be seen as a watershed year for South African music. It has been a year during which all the diverse music styles in SA flexed their collective muse-cles and poured their product into the stores, on to the radio, across the Internet and into the waiting ears of a global market. Yet among all these bands and artists the title of "best representative crossover SA band" is still up for grabs. Johnny Clegg's Savuka/Juluka were the reigning champs for quite a while but now seem content to rest on their laurels and popular back catalogue. Mango Groove took over for a period but slipped out of the limelight after they forgot the old tortoise-and-hare fable and relaxed for too long. Their current greatest hits compilation is an excellent but lazy attempt to keep their momentum going. Marley said you've got to keep on moving and in the SA music gestalt that is crucial; the young pretenders to the throne have sensed the slackness and are working and writing hard to overtake the old icons.
So here we have the third release from Magic Cactus and it is obvious that this is a band who understand the game and are determined to win it. Their previous offering, the 'Time/Isikhati' EP, was good but hinted at something bigger and better. With 'Things' they have delivered just that. Everything about this album, from the music and lyrics to the cover and booklet, suggests that nothing has been spared in Cactus's bid to spread their sparkling sound and relevant thoughts as far as they will go. The music harnesses all the current sounds of SA while their lyrics address the fears and hopes that exist in the minds of our rainbow nation. The overall mood, however, is one of reasoned optimism. The album is subtitled 'A Collection Of The Marvellous And The Magical'; the "magic" is not the stuff of fairy tales but rather that which allows a country to escape from the darkness of its past and move into a bright and colourful future.
Most of the songs are collaborations from this six-person band: the lyrics are by guitarist Jason Lurie and the hot chocolate sauce vocals on this musical fruit salad and ice cream are by Amanda Schofield. The "things" referred to in the title track are not material but rather the intrinsic personal characteristics that make every individual special and unique. A few tracks such as 'Wheel Of Love', 'Sunny Day', 'Things' and 'Walk Tough' manage to catch the attention in an album that is best listened to as a continuous whole. The production, by Ian Osrin at the Digital Cupboard, gives the music enough space and freedom while managing to encompass the many diverse ideas and instruments behind each song.
Although the real magic of the cactus is that it can produce tequila, here the process is reversed. With 'Things', Tequila Records have produced something that is musically magical, with the result that Magic Cactus's grip on the SA title is getting stronger. (SS)
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