Mpemba Effect Presents Ambient Afrique
A Music Review

South Africa By: Mandy J Watson on 26 April 2010
Category: Music > Reviews Comments View Comments

Mix sounds and rhythms deeply rooted in African culture with Western influences and the result is the laid-back aural journey of Mpemba Effect's Ambient Afrique. Let the groove generated by this South African producing duo lull you into an altered state of consciousness.

Ambient AfriqueThe second this CD starts playing you know why it's called Ambient Afrique - as the audio swells into the music intro of "Inkolo (Faith)" we hear drum beats mimicking the rhythmic stomping of feet and the punctuating, isolated note of a wood block as drops of rain fall gently in a crisp 3D soundscape, before the ambient sounds fade out and we are left to focus on the laid-back lyrics, sung by Siya Makuzeni. The subtle bass notes complement the lilting groove of the soft percussion. It's one of the best tracks and a welcome, gentle lead in to the rest of the album, which occasionally picks up the pace before dropping back into the groove set by the opening track.

The ambience is intermingled with the tracks at intervals throughout the album (a notable one being at the end of track 6, "Holding On (To Memories)"), and the closing track, "Liberation", with its crickets evoking a nighttime feel, ethereal voices drifting off, and laid-back, strains of Cape Jazz on brass instruments and guitar to round off the sound, softly working to pull us quietly out of the album (or gently into the night?), tying the entire production together and leaving you feeling warm and introspective.

Other stand-out tracks include track 4, "Southern Lights", and track 6, "Tokolongo (We Will Win"), though the ambient moments throughout the album, as I have mentioned, are breathtaking. There's also a pantsula lilt to a lot of the music, notably track 9, "Sina Makossa (It's Not My Fault"), which serves to keep the album grounded in its African roots, and track 11, "No Strangers", uses heavily synthesized vocal effects that are amazingly complemented with subtle use of the vibraphone and a blues guitar. These variations, though still very much within the "urban groove" genre in which this album falls, serve to showcase some talented musicians and production work and to demonstrate that there is much room for creative experimentation within the genre.

Track 10, "Original Soul", however, is my least favourite - in fact, it's the only track I really don't like. I can't quite pinpoint why as it also has a catchy lilting groove but it could be that there's just too much "bittiness" going on from too many disparate entities and styles and the track's end result doesn't feel cohesive. The best way I can describe it is that it sounds as though a late-night radio-talk-show soul brother got lost next door to a motel housing someone's experimental, hybrid kwaito-electronica setup from 1982 as a jazz trumpeter drifted by, punctuating the night air with unexpectedly timeous emphasis while a nearby lounge-bar pianist tested out his new piano. Most of these entities are fine individually, but the way they are combined in this track just doesn't work. I'm not one for wanting to skip tracks but every time I hear this song I end up with the grating synth line stuck in my head, which ironically is also responsible for most of the overall lilt. I really feel that it jars the subtle mood that has been expertly set up over the rest of the album by producers Gavan Eckhart and Garrick van der Tuin.

The album is best experienced with headphones, of course, especially for the atmospheric sounds in the opening and closing tracks, though also for the stereo mastering in general throughout the album, but this also means that the irksomeness of "Original Soul" is amplified exponentially. The album works equally well as background mood music on a laid-back day or during a dinner party, in which case some of "Original Soul"'s most jarring bits are notably, thankfully muted at a soft volume.

With headphones the album's bass notes rumble subtly, often in the middle of the soundscape but are never overpowering, and the treble notes are crisp and distinct and can be found throughout, really bringing the mastering to the fore. The range of sounds in the middle spectrums really fill out the tracks well, resulting in a well-balanced album.

For the most part this is a gentle, laid-back album that beautifully marries traditional African sounds with Western sensibilities to form a modern sound that is calming and very pleasing to the ear. There are lots of jazzy trumpet-led grooves with well-utilised percussion and the various tracks are distinct enough that it doesn't degrade into an hour-long one-note megamix in which you can't discern the difference between the tracks or pick up on any stand-out aspect that might be particularly sublime or well executed.

The review copy of Ambient Afrique was provided by African Cream Music. The album is available at, or can be ordered by, good independent music stores in South Africa (if you can find one), it can be bought via,, and, or it can be purchased directly from the publisher's web site as a physical CD or individual downloadable tracks. (Direct links are under "Shop Online" below.) OpinionShare/Bookmark
Rating: 7/10

Key Facts
Artist: Various
Producers: Mpemba Effect (Gavan Eckhart and Garrick van der Tuin)
Title: Ambient Afrique
Format: Audio CD, Downloadable Album, Downloadable Single Tracks
Release Date: 2007
Catalogue Number: ACM-CD0041
Genre: African, Ambient, Dance, Pantsula, Kwaito

On The Internet
Ambient Afrique: African Cream Music
Mpemba Effect: MySpace
African Cream Music: Official Site | Facebook | Twitter
Gavan Eckhart: MySpace
Garrick van der Tuin: MySpace

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