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Amandla! A Revolution in Four-Part Harmony

Anyone who lived in Berkeley during the antiapartheid movement of the 1980s will doubtless remember the echoing peals of South African protest music that rang through every campus rally, co-op party, and left-leaning radio show of the era. Music fueled the South African liberation struggle, both as a rallying point at home and as a cultural and propaganda export to Europe and America. A new film, Amandla! A Revolution in Four-Part Harmony, documents the intimate ties between the music of the townships and the political and guerrilla warfare of Nelson Mandela's African National Congress.

The accompanying soundtrack is a rich document of South African popular music, including the throaty gospel singing of the early 1900s, and its stylistic descendant, the glorious "iscathamiya" choruses that inspired artists such as Paul Simon to explore the vibrant a cappella style.

White South African pop icon Dave Matthews bankrolled this album, and not surprisingly it lingers on some of his favorite artists, such as singer Vusi Mahlasela, whom Matthews has featured on his own records. The disc opens with a few leaden, sententious English-language numbers, then mercifully drifts toward the soulful jazz and swing-influenced "jive" music that was popular in the 1950s and onto more modern material. Since the film concentrates solely on South African artists, a few beloved international hits are notably absent. Sadly omitted is the Special AKA's irresistible ska-mbaqanga crossover, "Free Nelson Mandela," a dancefloor hit that had East Bay kids skanking their little hearts out; it's cool, though, to hear Hugh Masekela's "Bring Him Back Home (Nelson Mandela)," which has the bouncy original horn chart. This is just one example of why anyone looking for an introduction to South Africa's political pop styles will find this well-balanced collection invaluable and uplifting.

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