Thandiswa Mazwai - Ibokwe
The muscular femininity of this passionate Freedom Charter chick, whose voice is as soft as it is penetrating, links a story about the dizzying power of a spiritual calling ("Thongo Lam") to her struggle to deal with trouble without the last resort, ("Ibokwe"), to a prayer for a return to the first principles of our revolution ("Ngimkhonzile").
The album is deeply personal, but Thandiswa celebrates and interrogates not just her own Xhosa tradition, but also her pan-African roots, going beyond the obvious with recurring Maskandi themes on "Izolo", and reaches further north with the tropical rhythms of "Vana Vehu" to bring all South Africa together over our outrage at what so often divides us - crime and cruelty.
Collaborations with Bra Hugh, her daughter Malaika, Ntomb' Ethongo, and sister Ntiski Mazwai bring her heros and family into the songs. Rather than disturbing the flow of her own style, their contributions make her shine more brightly.
Thandiswa's often asked if she's come to us to fill the big shoes of Mama Afrika, Miriam Makeba. A strange question, considering Thandiswa's chosen to take a route much more off the beaten track than Makeba trod. Rather than bringing the jazzy international gloss Makeba gave us, Mazwai harnesses a more bewitching power that makes the tiny Busi Mhlongo look ten feet tall onstage. Rock stars and pop stars are the priests of a more and more secular world and though this album isn't evangelical, it provides the spiritual comfort, the counselling and healing, that all great music should in times of trouble, with tracks like"Abenguni" affirming unity and African pride.
But the greatest music should also provide an easier kind of joy. This is the power of pop. And although the whole album is a brilliant blend of pleasure and meaning, Thandiswa also provides a party. So there's the sexy "Chom' endaka", and the kwaito-house jol
track "Vakahini" (the only co-written, with Mandla) to finish you off laughing and sweating.Ibokwe
is definitely one of the albums of 2009, and a work that'll last a long time. I could imagine sitting the daughter I don't have down one day, and saying "listen to this". It's that good and that important. It's Thandiswa's first Urbanzulu
, and hopefully not her last.
Listening to Thandiswa's Ibokwe is hearing your heritage being reborn in pop, witnessing tradition interrogated and reinvented, and rediscovering a critical pride in Africa and South Africa, that bridges the gap between disappointment and blind faith. It's also an intoxicating, heart-melting, bewitching musical experience that's as uncontrived as it's complex.
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