Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

South African Freedom Songs [Making Music, 2002]
No nation on earth can claim a vocal tradition to equal South Africa's, and while Ladysmith are as gorgeous as it gets, their delicacy misrepresents the Nguni styles that germinated out of the makwaya choirs of a century ago. In this package, which comes with a bonus radio documentary, the artists are mostly politicos first, some long based in London or Angola--inauspicious details instantly overrun by the power, esprit, and musical commitment of the singing. Language usually Xhosa, not Zulu. Lots of women for once. Lyrics of defiance, exile, and armed struggle--translate the second track's gruff-sweet call-and-response and you get: "We shall shoot them with rocket launchers. They shall flee." But let me ask this: If South Africa's so righteous, why don't they free Mzwakhe Mbuli? A-