The simply instrumented songs on this collection, a 14-track selection released after Brenda's death in 2004, are some of the SA Pop icon's most beautiful recorded work.
The basic style of the music showcased will be familiar to all South Africans. It's the basis of a religious tradition of the township church choir - rhythmic, with four or five part harmonies, an almost mournful tone, finger clicks, claps, and synthesizer backing (set to "organ" tone). Occasionally, drums, guitar and other instruments thicken the mix.
Beautiful as this music is, it's become almost mundane to us South Africans. As with all hymn melodies, these kinds of tunes are designed to be learned quickly and easily, so unless you're the one singing, or you're a tourist, they're far from musically exciting.
But with Brenda's beautiful voice soulfully leading solo, the familiar melodic patterns are elevated above the ordinary.
Religious faith may be the motivating force behind this music, and even those who don't speak Xhosa well will get the gist of what's being said. But it's by no means a collection that will only please a Christian believer. The music stands in its own right.
Well, it mostly does. The desperately dated, "The Lord is my Shepherd" and "World Song" are a couple of weaker moments. This is largely because the choral style that holds the album together is abandoned in favour of a more pop sound that, while not unpleasant, just doesn't suit the rest of the song selection. The weird British accented voiceover on "Soon and very soon" also doesn't cut it.
A lot more could have been done with the packaging. Liner notes, artist creds and much more information about the musical style would have made it seem less like a cheapo pirated CD. With sloppy work like this, the producers aren't really giving the faithful fans any selfish incentive not to covert their virtual neighbour's good and simply pirate a copy instead of buying one.
But overall, Malibongwe is a suitable, contrasting companion to Brenda's Greatest Hits compilation CD, which was released shortly after her death last year.
- Jean Barker
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