Smooth Africa II – Exploring The Soul

Smooth Africa IISmooth Africa II
Exploring The Soul
(Heads Up – 2003)

Smooth Africa II: Exploring the Soul is a sophisticated follow-up to the internationally recognized Smooth Africa album of 2000. Some of Southern Africa’s finest vocalists and instrumentalists, along with contemporary jazz icons from America, have come together on this ambitious collaboration. Under the guidance of Heads Up President Dave Love, Smooth Africa II: Exploring the Soul features such all-stars as Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Jimmy Dludlu, Spyro Gyra, Andy Narell, Prince Kupi, Gloria Bosman, Joe McBride, and 2003 South African Music Award winners; Shaluza Max and Moses Khumalo.

A visit to South Africa in 1998 with keyboardist McBride (the first American to ever perform at Cape Town’s annual Jazzathon) provided Love with the initial inspiration to debut Smooth Africa. “I had fallen in love with the entire country, its people, its culture,” says Love. “But mostly I was amazed by the talented local musicians who played with Joe, and felt they needed to be heard outside of South Africa.”

The twelve selections on Smooth Africa II: Exploring the Soul are as varied and exciting as the performers. The upbeat opener, “Walk of Life,” featuring the Soweto String Quartet spotlights the acclaimed guitarist Jimmy Dludlu, whom the legendary Hugh Masekela once compared to Charlie Christian or Django Reinhardt. The world’s best-known African group, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, tackles “Uniting Nations Together.” Remixed by D’Influence, Joseph Shabala’s composition is based on a traditional Zulu song about national unity.

Up-and-coming guitarist Allou April (who performed with McBride at Jazzathon) sings his local Cape Town hit “Bringing Joy.” Shaluza Max, the recent winner of a the SAMA for Best Zulu Album, is a spirited performer whose vocals are well served by the driving rhythms of “Mangase.” The guitarist, vocalist and composer Oliver Mtukudzi, is one of Southern Africa’s greatest stars, contributes “Neria,” from his soundtrack written for the internationally acclaimed feature film from Zimbabwe of the same name.

Elsewhere the program runs from guitarist Prince Kupi’s arrangement of the traditional folk song “Botsotsi,” through contemporary jazz legend’s Spyro Gyra’s “Cape Town Love” and steel pan master Andy Narell’s “Punch,” to saxophonist Moses Khumalo’s gospel-influenced “Hymn for Taiwa” and vocalist Gloria Bosman’s lilting “Umuntu Wakho.” Smooth Africa II: Exploring the Soul ends with “Aderley Street” and “Yebo,” a pair of Joe McBride compositions featuring South Africans Gerald Stockton on bass and Mike Drake on drums.

“I’m extremely pleased with how this project turned out,” says Love. “Traveling often to South Africa has been such a positive experience for me. Even after nine visits, I’m still looking forward to exploring more music. With this new album I hope to highlight more top-notch players, and bring new audiences to their unique sounds.”

This collection conveys the spirit of African music as a living tradition, and the artists manage to be versatile without losing their own identity. With its contemporary spirit nudging the music out of a purely African box, Smooth Africa II: Exploring the Soul is a must for pop and jazz fans, as well as aficionados of world music.


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