The pennywhistle is easy to make a sound on at first and as its name suggests, it was a cheap instrument. This made it a favourite over the years with young musicians in the townships (it's actually an old Celtic instrument and did not originate in Africa, as the subtitle of this CD suggests).
But easy as this tin flute is to get a sound out of, it's also very easy to play badly. It's simultaneously hard to force a big dynamic range from, and so sensitive to the slightest error in diaphragm control or lazy ambrochure that its tones can go either way - highly expressive or just embarrassingly squeaky and ugly.
The Pennywhistle showcases master pennywhistlers and their bands, bringing together Spokes Mashiyane, Mango Groove with Mduduzi Magwaza, Lemmy "special" Mabaso, Tebogo Lerole and others on a generous collection of mainly Kwela tracks.
Like the themes of many of the songs on this CD, the pennywhistle is at first overtly pretty, but quickly becomes more and more piercing. The initially jaunty tone of the tracks gradually grows less prominent as you listen. Behind the upbeat, energetic spirit that a casual musical tourist might find pleasing in these songs is a sort kind of sadness that South Africans will hear and detect.The album comes with useful, educational sleeve notes about the artists and with a history of the Pennywhistle.- Jean Barker
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