The big CD sellers are the guys you'll find in the small town supermarkets and in Pick 'n Pay: Steve Hofmeyr, Dozi, Heinz Winckler, the Gospel crowd, and in the townships, Kwaito and R&B hitmakers. Some are brilliant. Others, not.Many of the best SA Kwaito and R&B stars - Mandoza and Danny K. for instance - share a producer with Esti, who was discovered during a kwaito talent search. The producer's name is Gabi Le Roux.This Esti is not your average kwaito babe.Esti, whose name is spelt in brite pink, is styled just like a Footballer's Wife in the TV show. Think tonnes of highlights, a nice blue rokkie, bare feet, fake tan, and frosted lipstick. "Classy", as they say in the classifieds. On the inner sleeve, she goes more suburban, with a pienk leopard skin print, belted rokkie, and a slightly tossed mullet, prostrate in pale, rosy space with (you guessed it) a pink border.
In the inner sleeve, Esti thanks God, Gabi, and her friends profusely, with lots of capital letters, ellipses, exclamation marks and so on.
But does that surface stuff matter? No, not really. The music is what's important, right? Unfortunately, the music is a lot like the cover.
In some ways, this CD is the real thing - a rainbow nation product. It makes perfect sense that kwaito, a genre classified since 1994, should produce Esti. Esti's voice isn't unpleasant. Use a base of Britney, add lashings of Kylie and produce the result to sound like Brenda Fassie, and you're nearly there. Her major collaborators, the Abaqondisi Brothers (they sound a bit like Ladysmith Black Mambazo) do provide some beautiful vocals, and chillout styles mixed in here and there almost work.
But somehow, like a failed Eurovision song contest winner, Esti conveys an overriding impression of a musical thinness and cheapness that's only highlighted by the Abaqondisi Brothers' soulful sounds. By contrast to their richness, most of Esti's vocals sound like they've been passed through a robot's vocal chords. The excessive use of echoes and whacka wow scratch effects can't hide the dated Kylie-style sounds she makes. The odd pleasant acoustic riff doesn't fit in. And the lyrics? Oh, don't get me started.
That doesn't mean it's all bad. Esti is likely to keep parties hopping in places where nothing much better is available in the shops. And harmless fun is always a good thing. Having a white woman on the cover, and English lyrics, may also introduce new audiences to kwaito's galvanising beats. Perhaps some listeners will even be inspired to move on to some of the better stuff out there.
But while Esti's debut may well be a huge hit, both here and in Bavaria, it's not something we'll miss in a few years time, when it will be forgotten. Hopefully.
- Jean Barker
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