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Simphiwe Dana’s Kulture Noir

Simphiwe Dana’s Kulture Noir is one of the handful of albums I just couldn’t wait to be released this year. Simphiwe’s debut album Zandisile was hailed an instant classic, and the follow up One Love Movement on Bantu Biko Street garnered further accolades. She is a four-times SAMA winner and a nominee in the Metro FM awards and the BBC Radio 3 World Music Awards. Simphiwe is clearly on to something good.

Working with Simphiwe on Kulture Noir are some of Africa’s most creative producers, including the likes of Thapelo Khomo and Moreira Chonguica, as well as the Grammy award-winning Gordon Williams from the United States. Also joining her on this album is a dazzling array of musicians from South Africa, the DRC, Mozambique, Bulgaria and the United States.

Kulture Noir is a truly African album, permeated with the most beautiful harmonies and rhythms. It’s elegant and stylish, with an understated dignity and a quiet strength, sacrificing neither tradition nor integrity. Simphiwe’s vocal delivery has had her compared to the late Miriam Makeba, and with good reason. She knows how to use her instrument, giving us music that opens us to the experience of the universal language.

We have smooth jazz, traditional African music, dreamlike soundscapes, and warm ethno-soul on one exceptionally rich album, making this one of 2010’s sonic must-haves. Kulture Noir’s highlights include afro-jazzy opener ‘Ndimi Nawe’, the vocally stunning ‘Ndim Iqhawe Part 1’ and its more upbeat sister track ‘Ndim Iqhawe Part 2’, and the chic, sexy and laid-back ‘Ilolo’ featuring Adam Glasser. Both ‘Fela’s Azania’ and ‘Mayine’ are nothing short of magical. Kulture Noir closes with ‘Inkwenkwezi’, weaving together afro-jazz and ethno-soul, and leaving the listener hungering for more.

Simphiwe Dana has given us a sonic work of art; timeless, sophisticated and elegant, and with great warmth and depth. I’ve no doubt that this one of the definitive albums of this year in South African music.

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