Mahotella Queens Sebai Bai

This is the Mahotella Queens first album in ten years. Originally founded in the early '60s, they popularised the tough street grooves of mbaqanga together with Mahlathini as the most powerfully voiced vocal trio this side of Labelle. Sadly, Mahlathini's primal baritone wail left this planet last year, but his loss seems to have spurred them back into action. This record is dedicated to their late collaborator and is a joyful eulogy. After almost 40 years, the Queens are still sounding regal! The harmonies and voices are super tight, and when each woman solos, distinct personalities are on display; especially on the a cappella numbers spread throughout the disc. The splendid timing and range of the voices are simply amazing. The disc suffers from rhythms and production that don't add quite enough weight to the vocals, though. Mbaqanga, at one time, was the most punk-like of world music: fast, angry and capable of spitting out classic guitar hooks. This edition of the rhythm is much happier and more relaxed, sounding like the Queens album on Earthworks ten years ago. There are still some good grooves, as on "Sebai Bai" and "Awungibhaleli Ngani," but another guitar would have been a better addition to the band than the dopey keyboard sounds. This album would produce a good vibe in a bookstore or coffee shop, which is unfortunate, because the lyrics are quite political in places and their impact is blunted by the sweetness. (Label Bleu)