Kabasa ‘African Sunset’ 2LP/CD (BBE Africa) 4/5

Kabasa was formed in Soweto in the grim apartheid South Africa of the late 70s/early 80s. They released a total of three albums including this, African Sunset, their last album, originally from 1982. The sleeve is endearing in a cheesy kind of way but there’s nothing amateurish or naive about the production and the band’s performance inside it. Musically, it’s a bit of mixed bag, which suggest that band were incorporating other contemporary styles such as funk and AOR to their established African rock sound. Surprisingly, the funk here is smooth like Britfunk or the continental European disco variety rather than the more extravagant US sound.

‘Rainbow Children’ kicks off the album. The fuzzy slightly proggy intro riff gives way to a funky groove. This track is especially reminiscent of tunes from British early 80s funk bands. After the upbeat funky opener, the slower paced ‘Mefeteng’ leans towards a mellow African influenced rock. ‘African Sunset’ is fresh and smooth but not very memorable. ’Feeling of the 60s’ is an instrumental with typically 80s chorus effected guitar chords and is reminiscent of AOR music at its mellow best. ‘Walking in the Jungle’ struts somewhere between progressive rock and hard rock with the ever-present African elements. ‘Awundiva’ is laid-back and lush with a captivating liquid guitar/keyboard wash. For me, this is the stand out track on the album. Beautiful. ’Happy to be me’ is funky, disco style, locking into a groove with prominent popping bass. ’Sengiyesaba’, the album closer, is toned down afro-rock and a little so-so but is saved by the keyboard led instrumental middle section.

There’s distinct stylistic variation between the tracks but they are consistent in having sleek harmony voices with the guitar heroics of Doc Mthalane punctuated by popping bass from TNT Sibeko. Mthalane was apparently dubbed the ‘Hendrix of South Africa’ presumably out of respect for his chops. His solos are more along the lines of Ernie Isley’s performances in 1970s Isley Brothers’ recordings.

It’s a great call by BBE to release this just as our summer approaches. These tracks, especially ‘Feeling of the 60s’ or ‘Awundiva’, will sit happily in your chilled afternoon (or sunset) BBQ playlist alongside tunes by Roy Ayers or Doobie Brothers (Michael McDonald era please!)

With reissues of hard to find albums, I can’t resist looking them up on Discogs market place. There’s just one copy of ‘African Sunset’ available for $200. I can’t recommend spending that sort of cash on this record, but it may be worth grabbing this re-issue though, even if it’s just for the summer.

Kevin Ward