Music Reviews
10:31 am
Thu April 11, 2013

Freshlyground: Polished African Pop On The Global Dance Floor

Originally published on Wed April 10, 2013 6:19 pm

Freshlyground has been one of the most talked about bands out of post-apartheid South Africa. One reason is the voice of lead singer Zolani Mahola. Mahola is a powerhouse; she and six other black and white musicians from around southern Africa make up the group. They came together in 2002 to forge a new sound, repackaging folk roots and classic African pop with a slick veneer of international pop production.

The lacing of South African Zulu guitar picking in their indie-rock ballad "Everything" is classic Freshlyground, interweaving disparate strands into a newly coherent whole. But with their latest album, Take Me to the Dance, the band shook up their collective composing approach and worked with an American producer. The result is a new muscularity in their sound — a thickening of the band's trademark musical stew.

Freshlyground is not for everyone. Fans of rawer global sounds might find them too polished and preened, and their blend of confessional love songs, hopeful social commentary and party-hardy dance tracks can make for some jarring transitions. But that's exactly why they reflect South African aspirations so well. This is the sound of striving, from people who don't want to lose their past but at the same time want desperately to move ahead and find their place in the global mainstream — or, perhaps more aptly, on the global dance floor.

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Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

AUDIE CORNISH. HOST: And I'm Audie Cornish. Freshlyground is a multiracial pop band from Capetown, South Africa. Their fifth CD, called "Take Me To The Dance," marks their 10th year together. Our reviewer Banning Eyre says it's both a reflection on past successes and an attempt to shake up the formulas that made them famous.

BANNING EYRE, BYLINE: Freshlyground has been one of the most talked-about bands out of post-apartheid South Africa. One reason is the voice of lead singer Zolani Mahola.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

EYRE: Mahola is a powerhouse; she and six other black and white musicians from around southern Africa make up Freshlyground. They came together in 2002 to forge a new sound, repackaging folk roots and classic African pop with a slick veneer of international pop production.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

EYRE: There's a lacing of South African Zulu guitar picking in this indie rock ballad. That's classic Freshlyground, interweaving disparate strands into a newly coherent whole. But with their latest album "Take Me to the Dance," the band shook up their collective composing approach and worked with an American producer. The result is a new muscularity in their sound, a thickening of the band's trademark musical stew.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

EYRE: Freshlyground is not for everyone. Fans of rawer global sounds might find them too polished and preened, and their blend of confessional love songs, hopeful social commentary and party-hardy dance tracks can make for some jarring transitions. But that's exactly why they reflect South African aspirations so well.

This is the sound of striving, from people who don't want to lose their past, but at the same time, want desperately to move ahead and find their place in the global mainstream or, perhaps more aptly, on the global dance floor.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

HOST: Banning Eyre is senior editor at Afropop.org. He reviewed "Take Me To The Dance" by Freshlyground. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.