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Ukubonga [Gratitude]

Toronto, Canada

Credit - Steve Walsh

If there's one thing I love as much as I love R&B, Hip-Hop and Rap it is world music. As broad as this may seem, there's a universal link between all music - culture. Lorraine Klaasen and Mongezi Ntaka have impressed me with their collaborative freshly squeezed album “Ukubonga [Gratitude]” which was released on Nov 11 in partnership with 'Justin Time Records'. This 13-track piece of magic comes in at just under one hour - 50 minutes and 44 seconds of pure exploration and expression.

Ukubonga [Gratitude], is the new project from South African singer Lorraine Klaasen and South African guitarist, composer, arranger, musical director and producer Mongezi Ntaka. Through this collection of songs, listeners are given a celebration of inspiration from Southern Africa’s Township music songbook and feature songs written by some of Southern Africa’s celebrated singers and composers.

Opening the album with a real 'rise and shine' dominance is the song 'Sekusile (Kikirikiki)'. The ultimate opening statement is made through the use of a cockerel during his morning call and if that didn't quite get you in the mood for a dance then the rest of the track certainly will! Catchy percussion, upbeat energy all round and a real community feel are at the very soul of this track.

'Fiela' begins with raw acoustic folk style strumming before laying with harmonica sounds and repetitive vocals that act as a storytelling chant. This is a piece that takes things back down to basics and allows listeners to enjoy something real and raw after the excitement of the opening piece.

'Ilanga Selishonile' makes a fine transition offering listeners a production that is full of love and gratitude. Opening with a guitar solo is always something that literally strums strings, As the piece develops its audience is welcomed in with moving harmonies and sweeping backing vocals. A lovely piece indeed.

'S'ponono' speeds things up similar to the opening track bringing a fast paced energetic performance before introducing an apachi style composition in 'La Reine'. Gorgeous uses of wind instrumentation along with percussion, vocals and acoustic guitar stand out as a raw and streetlike live performance.

'Insizwa' embeds folk and blues into its being, bringing listeners firmly into the arms of the piece. Another gorgeous production that offers the consistency and warmth of another natural composition.

'Thanayi' has a very different feel within its beginnings through the use of an instant bassline. It's great to hear this variety within such a beautiful project and as always, bass adds a whole lot of soul to a production. Continuing this soul-moving performance, 'Meet Me At The River' strums on heartstrings with its luscious harmonies and acoustics once again.

Back to folk we go, 'Amampondo' embeds a folklore influence with South African-inspired vocals to bring a unique fusion to the ears of its listeners before moving into the next track - 'Jikele Emaweni'. Through 'Jikele Emaweni' listeners are given a minimal opening that does not lack in style. It's lovely to hear the marriage of strings - acoustic guitar and beyond.

'Unamanga' brings things back into a freefalling zone of love to make way for the penultimate song 'Kilimanjaro'. This is a piece that redefines its space by placing the bassline at the forefront of the piece. Concluding this 13-track bundle of appreciation is a song called 'Can't Cross Over' - the beautiful finale of a truly gorgeous and understated genius.

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