Let’s Dance – Various Artists: Africa Gets Physical Vol. 4 – Thandi Draai (Get Physical)

Thandi Draai

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

The Africa Gets Physical series has been a ray of light in house circles since it started. For its fourth volume Berlin label Get Physical hand the reins to Thandi Draai, who has been making waves in South African tech house over the last couple of years. Draai’s guide looks across the continent for inspiration, highlighting a range of talent in house circles.

What’s the music like?

Excellent. House may be the main musical discipline but there is a lot of variety here, and it is well chosen and ideally sequenced by Draai.

Of the 17 numbers there are some powerful stand-out tracks. Afro BrothersAmathuba, featuring Pixie and Lucky Keys, is a slightly trancey number with a really strong vocal. BlaQRhythm’s In The Jungle goes heavy on the percussion, while the next one strong offbeat presence. Dawgpound uses a clever, refracted vocal on Egypt to give the impression of a distorted monastery set to house beats. Eltonnick & G-Wash10’s Osiros, featuring T_Phoenix, is just superb, its driving beat and penetrating vocal complementing each other perfectly. Meanwhile Khensy & Cuebur’s Hulelewani is powerfully wrought, with a richly harmonised vocal. On the deeper side sits Sikkelela, with rich harmonies from Un_nown & Zikhona.

Throughout the collection modern tech beats sit comfortably with original percussion – which gives the music plenty of drive – and some really excellent, authentic vocals.

Does it all work?

It does – Thandi Draai’s selection is full of top quality house, and the impression is that there is still plenty more where this came from.

Is it recommended?

Definitely – the most inspiring volume of Africa Gets Physical to date, for which the label should be applauded. We need more exposure to house music from the Southern Hemisphere, especially if it’s as good as this!

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Switched On – Charles Webster: Decision Time (Dimensions Recordings)

reviewed by Ben Hogwood

What’s the story?

Not many producers could come back with an electronic music album 19 years after the last one. Yet that is exactly what Charles Webster has done with Decision Time, ‘following up’ his widely acclaimed 2001 opus Born On The 24th July. Webster is very highly respected in dance music circles of course – he learned his trade as an engineer with Juan Atkins and Kevin Saunderson, then moved to San Francisco in the 1990s and recorded under the pseudonym Presence as well as his own name.

Decision Time, as with the previous album, is curated by Webster but features an array of vocal talent, from established dance music royalty Shara Nelson and Terra Deva to South African talent Sio, Thandi Draai and Sipho.

What’s the music like?

Classy. Very little would seem to have changed for Webster in two decades of writing, which is of course an extremely good thing. Webster writes music of real feeling but with meticulously detailed production, so he can create a smoky atmosphere through deep house or more urban soul, brought to life by the chosen vocalist.

Shara Nelson’s guest turn, This Is Real, is heat soaked and emotive, while Sio’s second track Love Lives has a wide open production with intimate vocals. This is a trick Webster manages on several occasions, including Secrets Held, an atmospheric piece of soul where vocalist Emilie Chick draws the ear in.

It is in the deep house tracks where he really plays the winning cards though, the shuffling beats of I Wonder Why twinned with evocative, spacious keyboards, and the tougher beat of Music given a lovely wide perspective before Thandi Draai’s excellent vocal comes in. Webster uses an accordion sound in the middle which works beautifully.

Closing the album are two contributions from Ingrid Chavez, The Spell and The Second Spell. Chavez wrote the spoken word element of Madonna’s Justify My Love, and she appears with Burial, who gets a rare co-production credit on the second of a pair of pieces that crackle with atmosphere. If anything, Chavez’ vocals are better here than with Madonna!

Does it all work?

Very much so. Webster is still a master of creating vivid scenes with his music, be they in smoky, street-based soul or in hot weather deep house music. His use of orchestration is sublime, as is his knack of pacing in the music.

Is it recommended?

Heartily. It has made me revisit the older releases I have from Webster in my collection – and if you’re already a convert then you will need no persuading to buy. If the name Charles Webster is new to you, though, make sure you waste no time getting acquainted with his sublime music!

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