Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Iscathamiya: Zulu Worker Choirs in South Africa [Heritage, 1986]
Put off by its ethnographic audio, I shelved this as a field reference until my boundless thirst for knowledge induced me to take it out and turn it up. Whereupon it exploded. Although everything I read says all contemporary South African choruses derive from the "soft" style Joseph Shabalala developed in the '60s, this stuff doesn't come off as cathama ("to walk softly")--sounds like ibombing ("bombing"). It's aggressive where Ladysmith is spiritual, which seems fitting, since its commercial purpose is triumph in all-night hostel competitions. Also worth noting are lyrics that both zero in on broken families, the most galling symptom and symbol of apartheid to black South Africans, and defy the tribalism that's one of its nastiest strategies. A-