Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Soul Brothers: The Rough Guide to the Soul Brothers [World Music Network, 2001]
Setting the restrained tensile tenor of David Masondo against the accordion-modernizing Hammond B-3 of Moses Ngwenya, the mbaqanga bestsellers put in 15 years entertaining and uplifting under the thumb of a brutal occupation. Now they've spent 10 more keeping their spirits up and their sound fresh in postapartheid's dystopia. All 25 years are spanned on this compilation. The Soul Brothers' tight, slick harmonies and long, lissome basslines have remained so consistent over that quarter century that outsiders are hard put to remember individual songs, and the one-sentence trots on their earlier Earthworks best-of suggest that the lyrics don't add much to the musical effect. Nevertheless, the intensity of craft here, as well as its determination to seize freedom-bearing American sonics for Zulu tradition, should be tonic for those who doubt they can ever be cheerful again. I mean, back when we could imagine nothing worse, we had a good phrase to describe apartheid. State terrorism, we called it, and we were right. A-