History to dance to
Forget the politics and get your butt up off the couch and just dance to this album. Anyone who's worrying about figuring out the lyrics to what amounts to an overview of five decades of South Africa's black popular music has a serious case of geekdom; this is, above all, music for dancing.
And mayhbe that's the point of both the soundtrack and the documentary film it accompanies: Despite all the persecution, the racism, the violence, Nelson Mandela is a man filled with the pure joy of living.
So what's here? Early, early Hugh Masekela (who also wrote the original score which is also danceable!) in a high school jazz band he founded. Miriam Makeba's early recordings with the Skylarks, a torchy jazz, reminiscent of the jazz sides by Etta James from the early '60s, maybe crossed with Edith Piaf. Charming South African doo wop and R&B from the 1950s and '60s, modeled on American styles.
Among the notable songs familiar to Westerners will be The Specials' "Nelson Mandela," Johnny Clegg's "Mandela," and pop diva Brenda Fassie's "Black President." (Notably missing is Masekela's own 1987 minor pop hit, "Bring Him Home (Nelson Mandela).")
There's a nice booklet with color photographs detailing Mandela's heroic struggles and giving info on some (but not all) of the performers.
Forget all that, though. Turn up the volume, shake off your shoes, and dance.
© Copyright Jim Trageser
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