Afrika Mamas are the female equivalent of that venerable and venerated male South African choir Ladysmith Black Mambazo, whose sophisticated Zulu isicathamiya (pronounced “izzee-cat-a-meeya”) a cappella strains created a memorable vibe at this year’s WOMADelaide. The Mamas’ harmony vocals are as tightly knit and every bit as passionate as the men’s, with the septet mining similarly rich bottom register — commensurate with having three bass singers. With a trio of sopranos, the upper end is also well served — not that there’s any deficiency in the middle-range sound.
From the same Kwazulu Natal province as Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Afrika Mamas’ self-titled debut international recording matches some of their male counterpart’s albums in terms of variety of material and arrangement. Among the standout tracks are a couple of songs celebrating the distinctive Xhosa “click” sound. Three uplifting gospel numbers, a couple of contemporary originals and several traditional Zulu anthems — several in which the singers are accompanied by light percussion — comprise a compelling set.
DILIP N THE DAVS
Dilip n the Davs is something of throwback to decades of yore when versatile familial outfits known as showbands ruled the roost at nightclubs and similar venues. Impressively multi-genre and multi-generational, boasting two father-son combinations and other relatives in its ranks, the Fremantle collective that takes its name from lead singer Dilip Parekh covers a veritable potpourri of styles. Their happy-go-lucky originals are like a blast from the past — perhaps a rave from the grave in the case of ‘With You (I Feel Complete)’, a song that has the old school ska-pop feel of Millie Small’s mid-1960s hit ‘My Boy Lollipop’. The set’s sole cover recasts Jimi Hendrix’s ‘Little Wing’ as a reggae with rock guitar and harmonica mid-song breaks. The combination of tasty blues harp and stinging jazz-rock guitar also lifts an earlier ho-hum reggae, ‘Babylon’, while brass instruments serve to elevate ‘Your Love’. Elsewhere, distant shades of Michael Franks haunt the jazzy ‘No Network Connection’. Funk feel pervades a somewhat corny opener, ‘Thank You Jah’, and a later instrumental, ‘Outta Time’. Beautiful Delusion is the band’s seventh self-produced album in nine years, which is in itself a noteworthy achievement.
THE JUSTIN WALSHE FOLK MACHINE
SMALL TALES VOL. II
Fremantle favourites The Justin Walshe Folk Machine’s folk-rocking days are a thing of the past if Small Tales Vol. II is any kind of yardstick. The eponymous leader and his sidemen hit an altogether easier-going, more spaced-out and elongated groove in their latest hometown recording than on previous releases. With three of the eight tracks revamped JWFM “classics”, the band’s changing face is readily discerned on ‘The Shed Session’ (to cite the sub-title). While the more mellow approach has its compensations — it certainly allows maximum appreciation of Walshe’s soulful voice and his well-crafted lyrics and the languid playing, especially the bent slide guitar notes — long-term fans will no doubt be disappointed by the lack of even one up-tempo romp. ‘Drunk’ comes closest, evoking a state with which most of us are sadly only too familiar, while a bluegrass inflected cover of one of Dylan’s more obscure songs, ‘I’m Troubled and I Don’t Know Why’, is rendered as a relatively rowdy sing-along number.
It was personally disappointing to find only one song delving into Australia’s colonial history, something that distinguished earlier Folk Machine excursions. That’s probably why the opening ‘Buckley’s’ — a song informed by John Morgan’s The Life & Adventures Of William Buckley — stands out for this reviewer. It contains the set’s most outstanding chorus, viz: “No one thought he’d ever dare/ It was a thousand miles from anywhere/ Terrors unimaginable in Terra Incognita”.