Soweto, the most infamous apartheid stronghold, has received the brunt of attention from crate-diggers panning for gold via the largely unknown outfits that perfected their craft in isolated township halls. Described by “trombonist Jonas Gwangwa as the “soundtrack for knife fights between local and visiting criminal gangs,” the bands culled for the Next Stop…Soweto series not only faced guns and steel, but a systematic oppression from an Afrikaner government that in 1963 passed a “separate Amenities Act,” prohibiting integration, particularly when liquor was involved. Stripped of the ability to earn a living, many of the Township’s biggest stars fled to more lucrative opportunities, leaving a younger generation weaned on American rock and Motown soul, with acid rock and Hendrix, the most salient influences.
Compiled by the always stellar Strut imprint, Volume 1 collects the best township jive 45’s. It’s a more traditional sound, less electric, jazzier and with an ancient sorrow ingrained into the rhythms. Weaving jazz, gospel, rumba, funk and traditional mining songs, they bear a beatific and eclectic edge, evidence of the trans-Atlantic exchange of ideas. Volume 2 finds the sound of the JB’s and Jimi in effect. There’s a hint of mbaqanga and jazz artists striving for soul and funk fusion, but the sound is harder-edged and rebellious. Unsurprisingly, the collection ends in 1976, the year of the Soweto Uprising, the warning shot that eventually led to the end of the Apartheid. Removed of their political context, this is still beautiful music — in a larger context, it’s immensely powerful and an enduring testament to the perseverance of the human spirit. Even if you think that sounds like a bunch of banal hopey-changey stuff, there is no denying the ferocity of the groove.