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Reggae From the Motherland

Amandla Poets
Making It So: The Amandla Poets.

Amandla Poets communicate in a myriad of musical tongues

By Nicky Baxter

Attempting to classify the sound of the African/world-music ensemble Amandla Poets is about as easy as speaking six languages at once. Though somewhat awkward, the group's self-designation--"South African Mbaqanga reggae"--comes closest to capturing its eclectic palette.

As popularized by Mahlathini and the Mahotella Queens, the streetwise idiom Mbaqanga has become a viable trans-Atlantic export, while Amandla Poets' reggae roots can be traced back to Africa rather than Jamaica. Stir in a heap of R&B grit and soul, and the result is a successful attempt to communicate in a myriad of musical tongues.

The group is made up of Diasporan Africans from Azania, Jamaica, Cameroon Surinam, Trinidad and the U.S., so it's hardly surprising that it encompasses so many influences. The unit's current release, Makube Njalo (Make It So), is as catchy as anything you're likely to hear on the radio, even if hard-core politicos dismiss its message of unity and equality as so much "PC" hogwash.

Recorded in Surinam, Makube Njalo (a favored rallying cry for Azanian activists) bubbles over with songs aimed at your feet while giving your brain a little food for thought.

"DV's Gospel," for instance, is an incantatory ritual-cum-song, with words in English and Xhosi. The number is set in motion by a funky mbaqanga-in-jazzland beat. "Barnstormin,' " a fond tribute to the black baseball leagues, is immaculately executed a cappella style in the manner of Ladysmith Black Mambazo. Fittingly, perhaps, Amandla Poets even bust a rhyme ("Burnin' Up").

Though it has established itself as a North and East Bay phenom, the band has reached audiences as distant as Czechoslovakia via the airwaves. Still, there's nothing quite like seeing the nine-piece troupe in action. The invigorating music, colorful costumes and eye-popping choreography make Amandla Poets' performances an experience not to be missed.

Amandla Poets perform April 26 at Club Ibex, 55 S. Market St., San Jose. Tickets are $7. (408/971-IBEX)

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