The artists and songs on this recording represent some of the musical traditions in central and southern Africa in the 1950s. The competing and complementary influences of indigenous African music and pop music imported from the West make for a fascinating listen.
Of the many artists on this compilation, Jean Bosco Mwenda is the only one I recognize from any other recordings. However, there are many gems on this album that highlight inventive and virtuosic guitar playing, the circular and 'syncopated' rhythms associated with African music, and beautiful melodies performed both by solo singers and in harmony.
The album begins with two pieces by Ilunga Matrice and Misomba Victor. Both are characterized by intricate guitar lines weaving between bass and melodic functions. These provide a rich harmonic and melodic background for the vocal melodies.
The most intriguing track on the entire album may be T. Muntali and M.Sapao's "Mayo Wafwa." There is a complex guitar ostinato providing bass movement, melodic fragments, and chordal accompaniment. The singing is two overlapping voices, propelling the song forward through two distinct themes in the instrumental accompaniment (a rarity on this album).
"Elube," by the De Ndirande Pitch Crooners, features a driving strummed guitar accompanying harmonized singing, bearing heavy influence from contemporary American music.
George Sibanda's "Gwabi Gwabi" is an attractive tune notable for the melodic guitar accompaniment over a repetitive bass and the extended instrumental breaks. It is vaguely reminiscent of a country blues in the style of Mississippi John Hurt or Mance Lipscomb.
The Jean Bosco Mwenda tune is similar to other recordings in which his playing is characterized by a moving bass in conjunction with a melodic line in the upper register and passages of chords and double stops.
There are some tracks, such as that by F. Musonda, that are informative in the cultural differences informing listeners of diverse backgrounds. What sounds to the Western ear to be out of tune is a phenomena referred to as "neutral thirds," a tuning between a minor third and major third.
In general, the tracks on this album are characterized by short, repeating motifs on the guitar, flowing vocal phrasing, ambiguous (to the Western ear) meters, and simple song forms. However, the range of sounds provides great contrast between songs, performers, and regions. This album is well worth a listen for the innovative guitar playing, lovely vocal melodies and harmonies, and their place as precursors to the African pop music that has become popular around the world.