The vibrant music presented at Saturday’s “Africa Now” concert at Harlem's Apollo Theater was strong evidence that music in contemporary South Africa has gone far beyond the more traditional isicathamiya and mbube singing styles popularized by Ladysmith Black Mambazo thirty years ago. Emceed by the legendary trumpet player Hugh Masekela, the evening was a showcase for the 3rd annual “Africa Now!” festival produced by the World Music Institute, one of the country’s leading presenters of world music.
Jumpstarting the show at the Apollo was a rousing performance by a cappella group The Soil, an affable trio that exhibeted tight harmonies while allowing each singer to showcase his or her voice through engaging solos. Composed of Buhlebendalo Mda (aka Buhle) and two brothers, Ntsika Fana Ngxanga (aka Da FanArtistc) and Luphindo Ngxanga (aka Master P), they sounded a bit like the early 70's Manhattan Transfer. But, if that group was all about airy, jazzy fun, The Soil is more earthbound, singing songs about everyday family life in Soweto. Their signature song, "Joy (We Are Family)," says it all.
Master P's virtuoso prowess at making beat box and other musical instrument sounds had the audience wondering where all the music was coming from with only three people on stage, all of whom appeared to be singing. The audience rewarded the irresistible performance with a standing ovation, which visibly thrilled the group. "Our mothers would be so proud!" they responded, clearly overwhelmed by the warm reception at the venerable Apollo.