Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

Soweto Never Sleeps [Shanachie, 1986]
For all but a tiny minority of its U.S. cult, mbaqanga is a fantasy of resilience and resistance--we hear in it the defiant strength we believe must lurk beneath its surface whatever its ostensible subject. Reflecting its earlier date of origin, the latest collection is less sure-footed than The Indestructible Beat (compare "Wozani Mahipi," a/k/a "Hippes Come to Soweto," to its source, the Meters' "Chicken Strut"). It's also less catchy, with what I assume to be the traditional chant of the midtempo title tune the prize melody. But I suspect the major reason it doesn't connect as powerfully is that it compiles "classic female jive." Even though the idiom's male and female singers both adhere to the conventions of tribal syncretism gone showbiz, those conventions format women more tightly than men. As a result, the men sound more assertive. Which suits our fantasy. A-