Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

The History of Township Music [Wrasse, 2002]
Unlike Music Club's '50s-focused Township Jazz 'n' Jive, this is an educational tour rather than a stylistic overview, with jaunty 1939 stride-boogie piano representing legendary marabi to begin and misplaced 1978 soul guitar heralding attempted disco at the end. And as on the more sloppily organized Mandela soundtrack, it's the '50s stuff that stands out. Start with one of the two tracks it shares with Township Jazz 'n' Jive, the Solven Whistlers' "Something New in Africa," a pop moment whose big-band pennywhistles could get a Martian patting his pseudopods. Then backtrack to Nancy Jacobs & Her Sisters' "Meadowlands," on which if you knew Zulu or Sotho you would hear Jacobs praising the razing of Sophiatown, the 1954 debacle that signaled the cultural triumph of apartheid, and if you knew the thug pidgin Tsotsitaal you would hear the same singer condemning that debacle. Cue over to the insouciant strut of the Elite Swingsters' "Thulandavile" and wonder what kind of debacle could leave such a rhythm alive. Segue directly to "Midnight Ska" and doubt skank is purely Jamaican. Not a rhythm nation, a vocal nation. But somehow its groove snakes or lopes or bunnyhops all the way to mbaqanga. A-