South Africa’s withstanding talent takes center stage
In their fourth album EGOLI, African Express continues the ethos of bridging the gap between cultural and generational borders and differences through the power of music. Since 2006, Damon Albarn, the co-founder of African Express, paves exposure to the vibrant sounds and talents of African artists onto the center stage. While Egoli, a Zulu name for the city of Johannesburg in Gauteng, South Africa, is dubbed as the city of gold, the 18-track album is equally filled with the gold-like history of African talent and music.
African music genres directly tie in with their political history, where South African musicians would often write music about their daily tribulations during the apartheid era. They faced adversity with high-spirited bass, soft percussion and a pioneering guitar style. The first album track “Welcome” features the South African vocalist, Phuzekhemisi, whose husky voice invokes hospitality to anyone unfamiliar with African melodies. The track’s instrumentation introduces listeners to the complexity of finger-picking style on strings, called ukipika, which is elemental to Zulu folk music. The traditional guitar style allows for a soulful understanding of Africa’s history in the tracks “Absolutely Everything Is Pointing Towards the Light” and “Taranau.”
Prominent Western synth beats accentuate Africa’s pop genre called Mbaqanga, originating from the black townships of Zulu. Africa Express joins Nick Zinner’s pulse and Otim Alpha’s poly-rhythmic beat, resulting into the disco track “City Lights.” As the song makes listeners dance, Georgia’s smoky vocals are powerfully harmonized by the trio-backing vocalists Mahotella Queens. Similarly, the track “Become The Tiger,” featuring Mr. Jukes, Damon Albarn and Sibot, implodes in funkiness from its repetitive electro-groove.
Besides its infectious rhythm, EGOLI features the virtuosity and range of South African female artists. South African artist Moonchild Sanelly, who carved her own genre “Future Ghetto Funk,” injects her silvery, modulated vocals into EGOLI tracks, such as “No Games,” “Morals,” “Sizi Freaks” and “I Can’t Move.” Parallel to Sanelly, influential South African singer Nonku Phiri sings poignantly in the track “Bittersweet Escape,” alluding to the comforting, sometimes aching, stories of her lover – South Africa.
Africa Express’ EGOLI album showcases the undiluted cultural heritage of South Africa. The genius of the album lies from its means of bringing musicians together and reigniting the richness and diversity of South African music.