Luckily the SanScapes project is overseen by two musical collaborators of unquestionable integrity: leading UK writer, producer and "Ethnomixicologist" Phil Meadley and our own Pops Mohamed, himself a brilliant jazz musician and long time collaborator with legends like Sipho Gumede and Moses Molelekwa.
Under the guidance of Phil and Pops the first Sanscapes album was released in 2001, to some acclaim. Bolstered by the success they set out to produce two more albums of which "v.2" is the first.
Perhaps the most appealing thing about SanScapes is that it draws on a powerful, if obscure, synergy between its two musics. Club culture pop psychologists have long enthused about the connections between modern electronica and ancient tribal rhythms and, like most cliches, it has a kernel of truth. Both musical forms are bare, elemental, ostensibly stripped of cultural baggage - they exist simply as an expression of our delight at moving through space. Taking the metaphor to extremes, both musical forms evoke a primal, prenatal echo of our mother's heatbeat.
The obvious danger, however, is that the delicate and tremulous lilt of Bushmen trance will never be able to stand its ground against the supercharged bass of trance or hip-hop. Any respectful remix would have to carefully arrange the modern components to enhance and accentuate the ancient rhythms. Happily the new album boasts more successes than failures in this department.
Overall "v.2" is a much more mixed bag than the first album. Drawing on modern forms as diverse as hip-hop, acid jazz, funky house and hard trance, the CD is definitely intended for a more musically open-minded crowd. What's really nice about this second album is the much larger percentage of the SA musicians involved - more than half the tracks are local (as opposed to less than a third SanScapes 1).
Opening with a haunting 20 second burst of pure Bushmen trance the album slides effortlessly into the carefree kwaito bounce of Zet's "My Bushmen Peeps". Next is the dreamy "Kalahari Mix" by Embomvu - one of the most subtle and effective mixes on the CD. Highlights include the mesmerising acid jazz of "Purple" and the eerie, stripped down breaks of "Looking Back !Gubi". The hard trance power of "Kalahari San Storm" benefits enormously from the texture of the Bushmen samples, but the same cannot really be said in return.
There are also some worthy failures - great tracks whose only mistake is to allow their exuberance to overpower the traditional rhythms. The result: catchy and memorable tracks that are more Bushmen flavoured than Bushmen driven. The Diso-esque "Honey Song" and mapantsula jiving "Kabuye" are both guilty of this.
At first glance this would not be the sort of album I would buy for myself - even given the absolutely gorgeous packaging. Having listened to it, however, I feel compelled to find the first album and buy the third as soon as it comes out. While many cynics will write it off as a euro-centric curiosity, others will fall deeply in love with this strange, flawed, but none-the-less fascinating attempt to connect humanity across vast tracks of time and space.
- Alistair Fairweather
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