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Various Artists: Smooth Africa

A celebration of the beauty and creative spirit of a continent and its people, Smooth Africa (Heads Up HUCD 3054; 50:17) showcases premier African artists-both celebrated and unfamiliar-on compositions meant to illuminate and dispel myths about the “Dark Continent.” Dubbed “smooth” for the beauty and serenity of the place (rather than an allusion to the smooth-jazz style of music), the album is an optimistic, joyful journey with an instant appeal. Wessel Van Rensberg’s “Soweto,” performed by the group Amanzi, swings out in an open-road style with upbeat guitar and acoustic piano over steady congas. Abdullah Ibrahim’s “Mannenberg,” a rolling bluesy charmer, uses purring keyboards by Joe McBride and a laid-back Jonathan Butler guitar line for a sunny effect. Other highlights include Martin Waters’ “Tanzara Express,” a vivid train ride built on resonant conga undertones and Ian Smith’s flugelhorn as guide, and label president Dave Love’s majestic title tune, featuring haunting choral vocals and Hugh Masekela’s lovely, lithe flugelhorn work, moving like a sunrise across the land. Born of Love’s inspiration during a trip to South Africa, the album is a moving tribute to a place as rich in history as in talent.

Originally Published