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Boomkat Product Review:
Reissue of a rare South African soul, jazz and boogie oddity.
““Press ‘play’ and the soulful notes of Basil ‘Mannenberg’ Coetzee’s saxophone tell you two things. First, Night Express is great music. But, second, the sound doesn’t fit neatly into any of the mid-70s South African musical genre boxes. This was an era when Abdullah Ibrahim’s music spoke to popular audiences as well as jazz fundis, with the bump jive mood of Mannenberg as representative as the more abstract piano explorations of Underground in Africa. It was also the heyday of Soweto Soul, when groups such as Jacob ‘Mpharanyana’ Radebe’s Cannibals melded hoarse lead vocals, sweet female backing choruses and Ray Phiri’s fiery guitar into South Africa’s answer to the Stax sound.
There are flavours of all of these in Night Express, and something else too: a quiet wistfulness that’s slightly more Philly than Memphis. Maybe it’s those insistent Yamaha organ riffs with which Ismail ‘Pops’ Mohamed underpins the themes… or maybe it’s something more. Because Night Express was not only a funky, compelling hit record in its day. It was also part of a series of ‘70s releases, three as Black Disco and two as Movement in the City, that were a declaration of musical identity from communities whose jazz histories have hardly been documented yet: the apartheid-defined ‘coloured’ townships of Johannesburg’s East Rand.”