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Freshlyground: Polished African Pop On The Global Dance Floor

<em>Take Me to the Dance</em> is the latest album from Freshlyground.
Courtesy of the artist
Take Me to the Dance is the latest album from Freshlyground.

Freshlyground has been one of the most talked about bands out of post-apartheid South Africa. One reason is the voice of lead singer Zolani Mahola. Mahola is a powerhouse; she and six other black and white musicians from around southern Africa make up the group. They came together in 2002 to forge a new sound, repackaging folk roots and classic African pop with a slick veneer of international pop production.

The lacing of South African Zulu guitar picking in their indie-rock ballad "Everything" is classic Freshlyground, interweaving disparate strands into a newly coherent whole. But with their latest album, Take Me to the Dance, the band shook up their collective composing approach and worked with an American producer. The result is a new muscularity in their sound — a thickening of the band's trademark musical stew.

Freshlyground is not for everyone. Fans of rawer global sounds might find them too polished and preened, and their blend of confessional love songs, hopeful social commentary and party-hardy dance tracks can make for some jarring transitions. But that's exactly why they reflect South African aspirations so well. This is the sound of striving, from people who don't want to lose their past but at the same time want desperately to move ahead and find their place in the global mainstream — or, perhaps more aptly, on the global dance floor.

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Banning Eyre
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