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Musical Journey

by Dave Durbach / 16.03.2010

It’s a little trite to say that songwriting comes to a lucky few as easily as breathing or sleeping. Yet the stereotype exists for a reason.

Alec Khaoli started the Beaters with Selby Ntuli when they were still in high school. After an extended tour to Zim, the band rechristened themselves Harari. Invited by Hugh Masekela to the US in ‘78, the trip was cancelled when Ntuli died mysteriously in his sleep. Drummer Sipho ‘Hotstix’ Mabuse took over, and Harari became one of the biggest bands in the country in the late 70s and early 80s, dishing out funked-up afro-rock in their trademark Arab garb and/or spandex space cadet outfits.

The creative partnership behind most of the band’s music, Mabuse and Khaoli have been called Azania’s answer to Lennon and McCartney – a songwriting duo with the midas touch, friends with strong personalities who didn’t always see eye to eye. After Harari’s demise in the early 80s, Mabuse hit it big with “Burn Out’ and a string of solo hits. Khaoli started Umoja, had an international hit with “Bambo Wango” and released albums in America and Europe at the height of SA’s cultural isolation. Though not as well-known as Hotstix, Om never slipped off the radar, continuing to work as a solo artist and producer. Now he’s back with a new album.

“Musical Journey” may be a helluva corny title, but musically, one can’t help but be impressed. It kicks off with “Kgomo Tseo.” a chilled-out blend of electronica and live guitars. Next up “Mokete” is a churning, guitar-driven, vocoder-drenched winner. By the time track 3, “Kgaitsedi” kicks in, I’m sold. It can’t be easy for older musicians to keep delivering the goods long after the Greatest Hits albums have hit the shelves, especially in SA. Though the oldskool touches are here (a healthy dose of soul on ‘Say U belong 2 me,’ for example), there’s nothing old about the tunes themselves. The album is a slick amalgam of electronica, R&B and afro-pop. The second half of the album is more house-orientated, though the beats are pared down to make room for Om’s typically catchy hooks, and there’s just the enough live instrumentation to keep things interesting. “Yangen’imali” blends classic kwaito with oldskool disco synths, while “Malatadiana” is straight-up loungey house with an African touch.

The only real stinker is “Angel of Love”, a saccharine take on nu-skool R&B (think Akon) that’s probably more likely to turn into a hit than anything else. “Dumang” is similarly heavy on the cheese, catchy but with a singalong quality likely to cause some mild irritation. The journey draws to a close with “Zakafara” a chilled-out remake of Om’s 80s classic “Bambo Wango” – smooth jazz with a funky touch, sandwiched between dub versions of “Mokete” and “Yangen’imali”.

Throughout the album, Om’s vocals are subtly manipulated to create a layered, synthesized effect (definitely NOT like Akon though), which may sound naff but really works. True to his nickname, even on the uptempo tracks, there’s a calmness to all the songs – a sense that everything is in its right place. You can listen to this album once and know these songs immediately; you can listen to them a thousand times and still hear something new.

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