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World Music CD Reviews Africa

GEORGE SIBANDA

By Tom Pryor
Published January 17, 2006

The Legendary George Sibanda: Southern Rhodesia 1948-52
SWP/International Library of African Music

George Sibanda was arguably Southern Africa’s first real music star. In the late 1940s he was the first African to become a radio sensation in what was then the Rhodesias and Nysaland, and had big hits in Kenya and South Africa, too. Yet precious little is known about his life. Even the exact date of his death in the late ’50s is unclear. The few facts that are known—that he was Ndebele from Bulawayo who recorded a string of hits in the Sindebele language over an 11-year period before drinking himself to death—do little to dispel the conjecture surrounding him. Luckily, Sibanda’s musical legacy is a little more straightforward, as can be heard on this collection. Culled from the recordings of pioneering musicologist Hugh Tracey, who discovered Sibanda in 1948, these tracks reveal him as an easygoing, countrified guitar-picker with a gift for melody and memorable hooks. Jaunty, bouncy tacks such as “Dal Ngiyakuthanda Bati Ha-Ha-Ha” and “Mami” sound like nothing so much as an African version of Hank Williams, no small praise indeed.