Cultures of Soul deliver a peerless selection of pop on ‘Saturday Night: South African Disco Pop Hits’ – drawing politically-driven classics from now priceless vinyl – out in the new year

Cultures of Soul have another essential compilation set for release in the new year – Saturday Night: South African Disco Pop Hits – and having heard the selection, we at WTM (South African music obsessives) are once again blown away. The label identifies soul classics from all over the world, specialising in South Africa, the Caribbean, Japan previosuly, as well as where the label is based in Boston, USA.

WTM interviewed label boss, Deano Sounds, when the label turned ten years old in 2020. Judging by this new release, looks like there will be more great stuff from the label in 2021:

The 1980s were a continuation of the institutionalised racial segregation in South Africa, but massive upheaval and rapid change was to occur during the decade. In the face of global protests and demands for the release of human rights activist Nelson Mandela, who had been jailed since the early 1960s, the government was under huge pressure to change, with sporting and cultural boycotts affecting the nation. By 1990, Mandela was free, and apartheid was on the way to being dismantled.

South African music was changing too. At the beginning of the decade, the main music style of black South Africans was the jazzy indigenous jive of mbaqanga, a provincial style that had held its place as the sound of South Africa since Mandela was first imprisoned. By the end of the decade, South African music stars were making international waves with bubblegum – an African techno-pop – bands like Varikweru, Black Five and Soundburger pioneered their own versions of boogie and jazz-fusion; there were experiments like the Madonna-cloned diva Margino, who domesticised the burgeoning Italo-disco and NYC electro sounds; as well as the massive breakthrough of Brenda and the Big Dudes, trailblazing with a mix of native and international influences.

Deano Sounds says: “In Saturday Night: South African Disco Pop Hits, Cultures of Soul explores this period of change, and the intermediary forms that filled the gap between mbaqanga and bubblegum. The years when South African musicians and producers wrestled with the incursion of foreign disco and formulated their own style of homegrown disco-pop.”

Cultures of Soul also reissued the innovative Space Cats earlier this year:

Deano Sounds adds: “The sound on these records is ostensibly familiar, drawing heavily on models from the 1980s dance culture in Europe and America, but if you listen closely enough you can hear the distinct South African-ness of it all – from the deep, burbling basslines, the brightly hypnotic melodies, and chant-like lyrics – and with sounds as intoxicating as these, you will sure want to listen closely. And often!”

The label also has a fantastic podcast series that tells all of the stories behind the releases.

Check out the podcast here. Links to the label and all of the catalogue also.

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