Sharon Katz &
the Peace Train,
(Appleseed, 2002)

Sharon Katz is a singer-songwriter dedicated to the music of South Africa. The fact that she tours the United States may make the music more accessible to American audiences. She does not soften the message, though. Katz was born and grew up in South Africa during Apartheid. Since she is Jewish, she has shared at least some of the feelings of being an outsider that native Africans felt in their own country.

Both the message and the music here are generally upbeat, as it is with much African music. There are about 70 musicians on the 12 cuts, both from Africa and the United States. The lyrics are not full of platitudes, however. Throughout the CD Katz sings descriptions of African life, mentions the AIDS epidemic and tells stories about war and violence. There is also a tribute to Nelson Mandela and "Sanalwami," a traditional Zulu song.

There is some similarity among the various melodies to the songs, but Katz adds variety with different instrumentation on each cut. Even the guitarists, bassists and drummers vary. Many tracks have horns and backing vocals, and of course there is a wide variety of African percussion.

Most of the songs feature many musicians and gentle rhythms. Some that stand out are the hard rocking "Peace Train," the funk-based "Sweet Rhythms" and the thoughtful "Simple Things in Life." The latter has only Katz's voice and guitar with Matt Cappy on trumpet.

Imbizo (pronounced "im-BEE-zo") is a Zulu word that means a cultural gathering of hearts and minds. The CD has been nominated for a Grammy for Best World Music Album. I'm not surprised.

- Rambles
written by Dave Howell
published 3 July 2004

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