Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Consumer Guide Album

The Heartbeat of Soweto [Shanachie, 1988]
Earthworks having cast in with Virgin, Shanachie goes to the well and tests Zulu hegemony with its own mbaqanga compilation. There are big advantages to the wider range of tribal melodies and beats--in Western pop terms, sharper hooks and a less monolithic groove. Seven artists divide up the 12 tracks, and while the hottest stuff is still Zulu--Usuthu's eternally recurrent tunelet, Amaswazi Emvelo's supertipico forward grind--this album has its urban heart in the bush. From the simple Tsonga drumbeats of Thomas Chauke's opener to the Shangaan family chorale of M.D. Shiranda's closer, unprofessionalism in no way diminishes the music's skill or complexity. Folkies may well prefer it to Indestructible. Rock and rollers with ears won't settle for one or the other. A