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Soweto Blues: Jazz, Popular Music & Politics in South Africa by Gwen Ansell

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As guitarist Ray Chikapa Phiri states in reference to the anti-apartheid struggle, “The music won”-eventually. Broadcaster, producer and author Gwen Ansell not only provides a great overview of that victorious struggle but also peels away the white-and-black curtains to show a society as diverse (ethnically and musically) as any on earth.

As to be expected in a book about jazz and the blues, the U.S. figures prominently, from the storied visit of the Confederate warship Alabama to Capetown (and the “coon music” festivals it inspired) to U.S.-South Africa musical collaborations with the likes of Paul Simon, etc. But this is undeniably the story of the music from the most critical perspective, the musicians’, and their comments and testimonies liberally yet purposefully interspersed through the book. Particularly compelling is the story of the music’s role during the “dead years” from the aftermath of the Sharpeville massacre to democracy’s beginnings a decade ago.

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