Super review by Cal Gibson, of The Secret Soul Society and Scruffy Soul Recordings.
Blessed are the peacemakers as the old saying goes, to which we might add: and blessed are the music-makers. Blessed are those who create, who spread harmonious vibrations across our battle-scarred lands. Blessed are those who stand for love, peace and unity, those who come together in the spirit of joyous creation. The best of humanity enshrined in melodies and rhythm: a much-needed counter-blast to the carnage that the news brings us each day. Blessed then are South African vocalists Vusi Mahlasela and Norman Zulu, and Swedish soul collective Jive Connection, all of whom came together to make beautiful music in 2002: music that was lost, and then found, and now appears courtesy of the ever-mighty Strut.
…and what a blessing indeed this collection is: it fairly zings with the joyful power of the groove, the super-sweet vocal stylings, the coming together of singers and players with the intention of running the boogie right down. It`s fourteen deep cuts of frankly wonderful goodness, loose-limbed and uplifitng, music for dancing your cares away. Music as medicine, essentially. It’s difficult to pick highlights when the standard is so uniformly high, but you might single out the dubalicious stylings of the title cut: a skank through time, sweetened by flowing horn lines and vocal chants that reverberate to the source and back. Righteousness incarnate, a plea for brotherly love: Africa’s eternal cry for freedom.
Faceless People runs hot on the drums: rolling, rolling, as Vusi lays out the horrors of childhood abuse: ‘Monsters in their own homes‘ – underneath the joyousness there’s a searing social conscience at play throughout – the iniquities of a world turned upside down by greed and wrongdoing. ‘What is this world coming to?‘ they ask: a familiar question indeed, sadly.
Abantu Abangana Buso is another soul-slicked bumper, that’s elemental in its forward motion. The horns again punctuating the proceedings, like exclamation marks, pure pleasure points underpinning the beautiful call and response. A classic, for sure: you could play this any time on any dancefloor and the result would be the same – a crowd full of happy feet.
Prodigal Son and Son of Prodigal Son bookend the collection perfectly: two more slices of popping Afrosoul, brilliantly played, executed with flair and panache and an interplay between the musicians that is a wonder to behold. So Strut have done it again: delved back into the past to come up with something timeless, that speaks to right now and sounds absolutely beautiful. It’s only February but expect this collection to appear in those “best of 2023” lists. There won’t be many better albums released this year – a fantastic achievement all-round.
Vusi Mahlasela, Norman Zulu & Jive Connection’s Face to Face is out now, on Strut.