The true quality of pop music is measured in how true it stays to its intention. Dance pop should move you against your will, whereas melodic pop must imprint a tune or phrase into your DNA. Sometimes great pop songs can do both, but in the main it's ok to settle for one or the other.
In the case of Bongo Maffin's New Construction, the hit rate is about fifty-fifty. What makes it pleasant listening is the easy feel of even the up-tempo entries. Bongo have long blended mbaqanga, gospel and traditional iscathamiya, and they continue to do it fairly well, preferring to err on the side of subtlety, rather than beating you over the head with directionless thumping crunk.
The album even gets a little progressive in places, like on "Mankind", which employs a strange mix of synthesised beats, acoustic guitar, and Brazilian jazz rhythms! It's not entry-level stuff, and seems determined to explore its own path, rather than accede to either MTV or Channel O sensibilities.
Newer popular artists like Lebo have sought to impress audiences with more elaborate and sexy visual flare, but Bongo Maffin has stayed focused on maintaining musical importance in their production. And the results show, if only because New Construction offers more layers and variable moods, and is far less irritating to listen to than several of comparable albums.
- Anton Marshall
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