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Manfred Mann's Earth Band - Somewhere In Afrika CD (album) cover

SOMEWHERE IN AFRIKA

Manfred Mann's Earth Band

 

Eclectic Prog

3.03 | 85 ratings

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ClemofNazareth
Special Collaborator
Prog Folk Researcher
2 stars Somewhere in Afrika is another album of the early 1980's in which an established band seems to be struggling to find a theme, or at least a consistent one. Overall, this album is clearly intended to be an indictment of the abhorrent policy of apartheid that was being practiced in Mann's homeland of South Africa. In that respect, it falls somewhat short on both the scales of weight and of intensity. When considered purely for its musical value though, it is a decent record. It is not at all a progressive album, but I suppose 'Art Rock' isn't too far off.

There are two very distinct albums packaged into Somewhere in Africa - a mildly ambitious pop record, and a 'world-music' collection predating but something along the lines of the Paul Simon's Graceland. The pop portion includes Sting's "Demolition Man" from the Police's Ghost in the Machine album; "Runner", a kind of commercial jingle that appeared in heavy rotation on both MTV and in 1984's Los Angeles Olympics television coverage; the modest hit single "Rebel" written by British journeyman musician Reg Laws; the early 70's European hit "Eyes of Nostradamus" by Al Stewart; and the odd early techno tune "Third World Service" from Anthony Moore. The world-music portion includes the instrumental-plus- chanting "Somewhere in Africa" and "Lalela", along with a cover of Bob Marley's well-known "Redemption Song", plus the "Africa Suite", a composition by Manfred Mann himself.

I should mention that all references here are to the original North American Arista release of 1983. As with many Mann albums, Somewhere in Afrika was released with different song layouts, versions, even musicians, in different markets, so your own copy may vary. The album was re-mastered in 1999, and also re-released in 2005, and both these versions are also different from the 1983 Arista album.

Manfred Mann has been fairly astute during his 40-plus year career in judging the marketability of his various works, so I imagine he packaged the Arista version of this one with the intent of providing enough commercially interesting songs to get the record into the mass mainstream. In that respect he succeeded somewhat, as "Demolition Man" and "Rebel" both enjoyed modest success as singles. Unfortunately, the real 'meat' of the album is contained on the reverse side of the vinyl version in the "Africa Suite" and in "Redemption Song" (which was released on a 12" single, but I don't believe ever charted in the States), and neither of these live up to their potential.

As far as pop music goes, "Demolition Man" is a very good composition, with a much more driving pace than the Police version, but I suspect it was much more popular with the George Thorogood and Ted Nugent crowd than with the folks who were listening to progressive music in the early 80's. Steve Waller's guitar work combines with a young John Lithgow's percussion to form a steady pulse, and the child New Zealand prodigy Shona Laing, at that time in her late twenties, adds a very appealing vocal background track. The repetitive sounds of breaking glass are very cheesy though, and detract from the work overall.

As I said before, "Runner" yielded a throwaway 80's-style MTV video, but I suppose Mann and the song's author Mark Cain made out very well on rotation royalties both from MTV and from the numerous Olympic Games commercials that the song appeared on over the couple of years following its release.

"Rebel" is clearly an attempt to garner a radio hit from the album, and it was in fact a modest-selling single. I'm actually surprised some of the proto-hair bands like Triumph, Whitesnake, or April Wine didn't pick this one up and add some power chords - any of them could have easily yielded a hit single from the tune. On this album it seems out of place.

I had never heard of "Eyes of Nostradamus" before this album was released, but it was apparently something of a hit for Eurostar Al Stewart in the 70's. The song is pretty much what the title states - a first-person testimony of Nostradamus, the creepy visionary of apocalyptic prediction fame ("at night they will think they have seen the sun when the see the mad half pig man"). Waller delivers more great guitar work, and Laing's backing vocals are again very appealing, but this is really just another pop tune.

I really don't get "Third World Service" at all. The lyrics are something about being in a ballroom during a monsoon storm with the power out and some sort of problem with a short-wave radio. Whatever. The music is early techno pop written by Anthony Moore, who I think is the same guy who did some work for Pink Floyd in the late 80's. This is just filler, although I think maybe the fadeout with an overdub from a Third-World Radio Service news recording was intended to act as a kind of transition to the more interesting African-inspired music that fills the remainder of the album.

"Somewhere in Africa" is a short instrumental, heavy with African percussion and native chanting that transitions into "Tribal Statistics", which is itself an odd native-percussion-meets-Moog tune that speaks to the method in which African natives were being classified and institutionalized under apartheid. "Lalela" follows, which is another very short instrumental similar to "Somewhere in Africa".

"Redemption Song" is the last track on the album that follows any kind of traditional pattern. Bob Marley penned this one at the beginning of the 80's as a kind of protest rallying cry for oppressed people of color. As a reggae song it is both powerful and spiritual, and has been reworked by many artists over the years to mixed effect. The African backing vocals and occasional percussion add a bit of authenticity here, but the 80's European touch is a distraction. Chris Thompson is not the right voice to be telling Africans to "emancipate yourselves from mental slavery", and Trevor Rabin's guitar solo, though inspired, is totally out-of-place.

The "Africa Suite", an eight minute lukewarm rant against apartheid and oppression, closes the album. This frankly should have been greatly expanded to consume the whole record. It probably would have made a much stronger statement against the practice of apartheid, but was heavily diluted by the inclusion of all of the western pop songs.

When I first bought this album it was largely because the narrative on the back cover of the vinyl jacket made such a powerful social and political statement (by the way, 'Bantustans' were the pejorative name of the 'native settlements' in which the white South African government segregated black women and children while their husband's served white landowners in the cities under apartheid. The back of the album includes a map of South Africa marking these 'settlements'):

The City: Joseph tends the garden of the Malan's house; On Friday evening, Mr. Malan smokes his pipe and hands Joseph his pay packet. They discuss the roses. Mrs. Malan has a parcel of nearly new clothes for him and his family. The Malan's children play around the pool. Joseph's wife and child are five hundred miles away in Kwazulu. Joseph makes a cup of tea in the kitchen. He takes it out to his concrete shed at the back of the house. He sits on his steel bed. It is the weekend. Tonight he will get drunk in a sheeban. It will be many months until he sees his family. It has been many months.

Bantustan: Nelson, the son of Joseph, plays football with his friends; Sometimes he pauses and gazes down the dirt road. Today the bus will come? Today his father will come? Outside their hut, his mother pauses at her washing; Raw, calloused hands on hips, she gazes at her son. She knows it will be many months until Joseph returns. Nelson kicks the football, the bus forgotten for a while.

I'm not certain what Manfred Mann's agenda was in making this album. If it was to produce a marketable pop album he was mildly successful, as there were modest hit singles, as well as music videos and commercial jingles that undoubtedly still generate income for him and the other band members. If his intent was to raise awareness of the criminal practice of apartheid in late 20th century Africa, I contend he failed miserably. The closest the album came was in the written and visual statements on the back cover.

Paul Simon would come much closer with his Graceland album a few years later, but in reality it fell to the international community, NGO's, and the South African people themselves to raise enough awareness to free Nelson Mandela, end the official government practice of apartheid, and cause Johannesburg to become integrated with free people of all colors in the 1990's. Somewhere in Afrika, at best, acknowledged the kinds of practices which white people in 'civilized' countries were willing to engage in, even late into the 20th century. Although there are some songs on this album that I would have liked otherwise, I have to say that the album overall should best be relegated to the back pages of music history. It serves no useful purpose in any progressive music collection, although it may be of interest to ardent Manfred Mann fans, so I give it two stars.

peace

ClemofNazareth | 2/5 |

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