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Review: Zandisile

Updated: Apr 15, 2022

Artist: Simphiwe Dana

Genre: Afro-Soul, Traditional, Jazz

Release Year: 2006

This is a defining album. It bravely stood up above the tragic trope of mimicking all things Western and uttered a new sound for a youth that prefers their own image. There will surely be all sorts of imitations of this iconic Dana debut. Though Dana herself is following strong traditions, Zandisile is part of a new ethnic soul genre that is trendy and hip.

In songs like ‘Ingoma’ she evokes memories of great female singers like the Dark City Sisters and in ‘Ndiredi’, she channels Letta Mbulu. She has also been compared to the late Miriam Makeba. But she is not just a copy of monumental South African divas. She adds an inspiring twist by showcasing the new soul style which is indeed more universal, mixing the familiar traditional sounds with western jazz elements and neo-soul vocals akin to Erykah Badu or Jill Scott.

While ‘Chula Ukunyathela’ shows off her vocal capabilities relying mainly on her sense of rhythm and strong harmonies. Other songs like ‘Tribe’, featuring Gregory Georgiades & Ashish Joshi, have outrageously succulent percussion and authentic instrumentation.

Lyrically, Zandisile is stylish and intelligent, mixing age-old tribal influences with more recent western diction. There are conscious tones, but also a sweet and natural romance. Simphiwe Dana’s confidence does not fail to shine through and that might be part of what makes it so significant.

Because of Zandisile, Dana has become the epitome of Afro-cool, but it took two years to release. This is supposedly because of the efforts to make it marketable for the international market. My only criticism is that I felt that effort. If only out of insatiability, I wanted it to be even more strongly influenced by ‘home sounds’ than it was. I have a feeling it would have been so much better without the smooth jazzy finishes.

This album deserves to be in your collection. Its implications will not impede its natural, lazy mood. Because of its nerve, ingenuity, and sheer soul, this album deserves top marks. It best recaps the narrative of post-apartheid youth culture. This should be added to the South African music archive as an impeccable Afro-soul album.

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