World In Stereo: Next Stop…Soweto Vol. 2

Various Artists: Next Stop…Soweto Vol. 2: Soultown. R&B, Funk & Psych Sounds from the Townships, 1969-1976 (Strut, 5/11/10)

Is there anything that apartheid didn’t fuck up? The disgusting policy of extreme segregation seeped through every aspect of South African life, even the music scene.

When white politicians started sensing “trouble” (as in blacks having concerts), they passed a series of laws that kept blacks from playing shows in concert halls in white Johannesburg. This meant that any black musician had to play shows in the Soweto Township, a poor and segregated neighborhood next to the city’s mining district.

As the album begins, you can hear the role that American soul and early psychedelic records played in the musical development of the Soweto style. I would have killed to be a fly on the wall during the Soweto record-exchange parties / jam sessions where most of these songs were born.

Many of the songs feature cascading organs that accent the schizophrenic mumbles of guitars, much in the way of The Zombies but with a sturdy polyrhythmic backbone. But it’s not a straight rip of the British and American strains; there’s an urgency present that white potheads didn’t have.

Psychedelic music of the West often was introspective, probing the depths of the mind using a plethora of indulgent guitar solos and piles of distortion. But the Soweto psychedelia was a communal experience. They were reflecting the confusion and disillusionment of the nation as a whole, acting as a loudspeaker to the mind of the people.

The brutality of apartheid led to an aggressive undertone in the music, despite the presence of funky bass lines and danceable rhythms. You can hear the frustration come to a boiling point during the chorus of “Intandane Pt. 1” by Phillip Malela & The Movers, when the entire band cries out “intandane” (Zulu for “orphan”) over a heated argument between the organ and guitar.

It’s hard not to see this as a prelude to the Soweto Uprising of 1976, where a group of students protested the mandate that required schools to teach in Afrikaans (the Dutch spoken by white South Africans) that lead to fatal shootings and the first international condemnations of apartheid.

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