Freshlyground – Radio Africa

2010-05-17 13:14
 "Fusion"...  it became a dirty word for a reason. Music may be a universal language, but that doesn't mean everyone speaks it the same way. You can't just toss anything together and have it work out great.  Good intentions have their place, but the many collaborations wind up like the musical equivalent of bacon samoosas: annoying oingo-boingo  cheese that is only bearable live, and even then only if you're drunk and trying to prove some kind of political point. The difficulties of fusion make Radio Africa even more of an achievement.

Zolani's vocals are relaxed, confident and weightless from the opening notes of "Moto" - a traditional southern African chorus adapted as a doubtful love song – through the final dark images of "Walipghalal'igazi".  

Producer Fabrice Dupont lets the songs speak for themselves. Many producers go overboard when presented with the temptation with a big fusion band whose members play up to 20 instruments between them, but FAB keeps it simple and balanced. Though Freshlyground collaborated with Les Nubians on one track, "Big Man" they've also been sensible enough not to overload the project with random celebrity collaborations, just to prove they've "made it".  

Lyrics mix dreamlike images that look funny on paper (but make perfect sense when sung) with calls for a revival of the idealism of Obs and Melville's glory days. Like Busi Mhlongo and Thandiswa Mazwai, Freshlyground are proudly South African, which is precisely why they feel so strongly about protecting our future by facing our problems. Sometimes a reminder of promises made says it all, like the clip of Mugabe being sworn in that opens the protest jive, "Chicken to Change".  

Radio Africa is the sound of a band who've finally discovered who they are. After the success of Nomvula and Ma' Cheri, they're free to make whatever album they like. "Fire is Low" might make a 5fm radio hit? "The Dream of Love" is unforgettable late night meditation. "Would You Mind"  dwells uneasily on the way relationships break us up. It's both a very personal, and a passionately political record.  

The question is: Will the new songs be "too African" for 5fm, and "not traditional enough" for KhayaFM? Watching Freshlyground perform the album live, you get the feeling SA's Rainbow Nation poster-band aren't particularly concerned about the answer. And really, why should they be? They've just released their best - and their most serious - album to date.

Gallery: Freshlyground Launch Radio Africa

SA's rainbow nation poster-band go from fusion to fused on their best and most serious album so far.

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