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The Soil
Nostalgic Moments Clyde Macfarlane , August 3rd, 2015 14:56

South Africa's long a cappella tradition continues with The Soil, a Soweto grown trio who combine the same warm, golden-rich vocal harmonies that bought Ladysmith Black Mambazo and The Mahotella Queens international fame with a beatboxing, kwaito-influenced attitude. Dominant frontwoman Buhlebendalo 'Soil Sister' Mda exchanges lead vocals on most tracks with Ntsika Fana Ngxanga, who compliments her Beyoncé-worthy undulations in modest support. Ntsika's brother, the beatboxer Luphindo 'Master P' Ngxanga, proves a loyal pace setter, and it's fitting that Nostalgic Moments opens with the suck and hiss of his microphone work before the harmonies wash in. Master P also respects when to hold back on saliva-heavy antics, a common annoyance when beatboxing makes the leap from street corner to record.

Officially called The Soil since 2004, all three members learned to harmonise in a 20 piece choir at Soweto's Tetelo secondary school. The spirit of this strength in numbers approach remains, with tracks like 'Streets Of Soweto' seeing Buhlebendalo, Master P and Ntsika switch roles in complex vocal exchanges that could be mistaken for the echoed call and responses of a much larger group. In what must've been a huge privilege Ladysmith Black Mambazo guest appear on 'Hamba Uyosebenza', reconnecting The Soil to their big scale roots. But this brief choral moment creates a massive boost for the trio; every other track on Nostalgic Moments equally rich, proving that the group have been shrewd in honing its core membership to a number where distinct personalities shine through.

Propelling The Soil's vision to extend their message beyond South Africa is a deeply religious force. When I ask about the importance of being a trio after their electrifying Womad set I'm shot down by Buhlebendalo; "God is our fourth member", is her reflex response. A muted applause from the Guardian reading audience met his introduction on stage, but it's hard to look sceptically on the soaring positive vibes that The Soil ooze. Ntsika in particular channels an angelic lovability on tracks like 'Noma Ungahamba' and 'Andinanto' that is reminiscent of a young Sam Cooke in full gospel mode.

Unique to The Soil as a gospel group is their use of South Africa's numerous indigenous languages, with only three tracks here being sung in English. Rather than alienating Western audiences, this instead releases the pure aesthetics of the vocals. The true meaning of the songs is both kept secret and becomes universally accessible, with literal understanding buckling to the incredible power soul music has in transmitting a message. Listen to 'Unspoken Words', Nostalgic Moments' rousing opener in a made up language, for a perfect embodiment.