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One silver lining of the cloud that currently hangs over the music industry is the prevalence of re-issues. The financial squeeze that's curtailed investment in new productions has made it more attractive for record companies to scour their vaults for forgotten gems, and let's face it they don't make 'em like they used to, whichever way you look at it. They're not making much of anything at all these days in Zimbabwe, which was called Rhodesia when the songs on this cracking compilation were recorded there between 1974 and 1979 by a seminal band, originally set up to entertain the workers at the Mangura copper mine.
It's a must for fans of southern African music, and a great insight into the early career of Thomas Mapfumo, who was with them for most of their first year. He's represented on four murky sounding but atmospheric cuts written just as he and guitarist Joshua Hlomayi were beginning to move away from their mix of Afro-rock, rumba, cha-cha-cha and 'copyright' soul material (covers), towards a more original neo-traditional sound. 'Ngoma Yarira' finds Mapfumo's distinctive yodel-like vocal style almost fully formed, along with the shuffling triple-time groove he would later coin 'chimurenga'. Another standout track from this period is the ghostly, throbbing 'Alikulila', based on a Malawian traditional tune.
As explained in the detailed, though not entirely complete sleeve notes (e.g. why were there no recordings between 1974 and 1977?) Hallelujah Chicken Run Band personnel was constantly changing, with guests and members leaving for and arriving from other better known groups such as Devera Ngwena and Four Brothers. Though fourteen musicians are listed in the credits, they generally seem to have existed as a five or six-piece, with founder member Daram Karanga's trumpet and Robson Boora's sax frequently softening the tight guitar counterpoint of Adbulah Musa and Hlomayi. The material isn't chronologically sequenced, but it does hang together in an engaging way. Thus, things kick off in confident style with the propulsive rhythms and memorable guitar licks of guitar 'Mudzimu Ndiringe', from 1979. An hour later, you'll be wanting to press replay. --Jon Lusk
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