Record Review - 2 January 16 2002

The Soul Brothers are the most popular band in South Africa, and one of that country's premier groove units. Their instrumental signature is Moses Ngwenya's omnipresent Hammond B3 organ. But the rest of the rhythm section doesn't just build its mbaqanga groove around that instrument, it evokes it as well, billowing and bubbling the way the organ furbelows do just before they take full flight. The effect is hypnotic, even when the band is joined — always after at least one full verse and chorus — by muted cherry-sour horns stating a simple unison line.

The vocals are icing — and given lead singer David Macondo's tremulous larynx, they're the music's only indication of strain. Pretty remarkable considering that the first 15 years of the Brothers' 25-year recording career came during apartheid.

Another remarkable aspect is that no non-South African would guess the time-span of this fine 20-track introductory volume — the third single-artist title in the 50-strong-and-counting Rough Guide series — without the aid of the liner notes. The feel of its first five songs (all from 1976) is indistinguishable from its last five (from 1997-2000). The songs themselves are indistinguishable too, unless you bear down — which is a problem if you like your grooves to differentiate themselves more audibly over 78 minutes, or if the sweet smoothness of Macondo and his accompanying singers (including, until 1982, the fabulously named guitarist/vocalist American Zulu, who composes two early songs here) gives you a toothache. If not, this one grooves hard and retails cheap.??