Ringo - now nominated for a SAMA in the "Contemporary album, African" category - has worked with everyone from Hugh Masekela to Simply Red. His versatility and experience as a musician shows in the P4 Radio-ready sound of Baleka.
Ringo's accessible, friendly style has always given him reach beyond gospel radio or the world music scene, into the pop scene. His messages of reconciliation, which were meaningful while not being heavily political, allowed him to tread a careful path during the 1980s in Cape Town, and keep working when others were being arrested by Apartheid authorities, or rejected as sellouts.
By 1986, Ringo headed up the band Peto, who won the Shell Road to Fame talent search, and got a bit of media exposure. Ten years later, his first solo album, Vukani, was released. His next, Sondelani came out in 1997 and achieved double platinum sales.
Baleka, like his previous work, is designed to bridge cultural divides. Songs are in both English lyrics and Xhosa, and the CD sleeve has explanations of some songs, to help non-Xhosa speakers understand. Many of the compositions are declarations of love, but other songs songs celebrate cultural occasions or make pleas for cooperation against violence and rape.Ringo leads a call and response with his powerful vocals, in which he is answered by a layered chorus, and supported by arrangements of synthesised keyboard sounds, brass and percussion. At times, the effect is moving, but now and again things get a bit twee. Tweeting birds or the sounds of arrows being fired, or the voice of a mother crying, match the lyrics a tad too literally, and become a bit "bleeding heart".
So although Baleka is slickly produced, heartfelt, and steeped in recent South African musical and political history, it's hard not to miss the mischief, anger and sex appeal that's the backbone of much great pop.
To hear it yourself, listen to the selection of sound clips by clicking the track names.- Jean Barker
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