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World Music CD Reviews Africa

Oliver Mtukudzi and the Black Spirits

By Marie Elsie St. Leger
Published August 1, 2005

The Other Side
Shava

In support of a relatively obscure organization called Swiss-Zimbabwean Friendship Association, Oliver "Tuku" Mtukudzi and his band, the Black Spirits, performed a typically tight set, captured in 1994 during a Swiss tour and originally released in Europe in 1995. For almost three decades, Mtukudzi has led a dance band, addressing serious social issues while urging his audiences to dance. The Other Side only hints at Mtukudzi's irresistible charisma--no recording could capture his charm or that disarming smile--and there's no telling how high the crowd jumped in time to the happy onslaught of southern African rhythms like Zimbabwean jit and chimurenga, and South African mbaqanga. But Mtukudzi's talents as a songwriter and band leader, as well as the band's elasticity (the musicians move from laid-back R&B-inflected blues to mbaqanga and back again with breathtaking ease), shine. Singing mostly in Shona, Mtukudzi unspools the story of his home: the struggle for independence ("Mutavara" civil discord ("sizato,"sung in Ndebele), social concerns ("ai Ndine Mukoma"addresses domestic violence) and pride ("God Bless Africa").