Claire Johnston - Africa Blue - Claire Johnston - Africa Blue

2006-03-29 20:07
Read our Claire Johnston interview here

Africa Blue is a far-from-blue postcard to the musical past that inspired South Africa's much loved diva, whose powerful vocals on international hits like "Dance some more" and "Special Star" made our music - and the happier side of life here - famous around the world.

On this second solo album - produced and arranged by husband John Leyden - she mixes American jazz standards, and famous Latino numbers like "Perhaps" with original compositions.

Africa Blue sees Claire softer-voiced and infinitely more digestible than she used to be. The light harmonies and cheerful Latino rhythms on Shine are groovy and fresh. Her smooth jazzy rendition of Lionel Ritchie's "Sela" is as dreamlike and sweet as it's sad. Billy Holiday's macabre tearjerker "Strange fruit", is beautified by Claire's softened touch.

The choice of songs is sometimes wonderful, bringing together North and South American seamlessly. At other times it's a little last year. Do we really want to hear yet another version of "These boots are made for walking"? Or "Sway"? Or "Perhaps"? Especially since these versions don't do much to update the old numbers. A more daring approach would have justified including these standards.

Still, by lending the classics a subtle but inescapably 21st-Century sheen, Johnston brings them back to life. More importantly, Africa Blue attempts to give all Africans (and that includes all South Africans) the right to feel proud of what the music world inherited from the continent that made us who we are.

Now, you're thinking: if only Claire could rouse Mango Groove from the dead? Well there's hope of that too - they accompany her on a cover of Salif Keita's "Africa" and the rather awkward-sounding original track, "Africa Blue". And there's talk of a reunion.

- Jean Barker

Johnston utterly bewitches with her vocal sophistication and interpretative class.
- Musica

Claire Johnston of Mango Groove acknowledges jazz's African origins by adding a sun soaked African sweetness to some classic numbers from South America and the USA.

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