Music

The Green Arrows: 4-Track Recording Session

If you told me that this is a perfect representation of the band as they were during the 1970s, I'd believe you without a qualm.


The Green Arrows

4-Track Recording Session

Subtitle: Analog Africa No. 1
Label: Alula
US Release Date: 2006-02-14
UK Release Date: Available as import
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I've been thinking about this review for weeks. At first, I thought I'd start by writing about the similarities between the Green Arrows' songs and the sound of South African township music. After a few days, I discarded that idea, and decided to begin by praising the quality of the CD booklet and the care with which the music has been reissued. Then, when I finally started to write, I found myself leaning on the word 'jangly'. I wrote: "You've probably seen the word 'jangly' used to describe guitars far too often, but I'm going to use it again because this -- this is jangly -- or, to be more specific, the song 'Chipo Chiroorwa' is jangly, so unstably so that it sounds as if the guitarist has been buried in solid gelatin, and the other band members are taking it in turns to bounce up and down on top of him. It's so jangly you could almost call it jingly, if it didn't also sound so strong and metallic. I wouldn't be surprised if the guitar had been strung with those taut wires they put in cheese slicers."

In the end, I couldn't decide which idea to use, so I'm going to leave them all tossed in a heap there and you can pick whichever one you like the most while I sneak away to the next paragraph.

The Green Arrows were a six-piece Zimbabwean group who became popular during the '70s after the South African producer West Nkosi discovered them playing in a hotel and coaxed them out of it and into a recording studio. That first session left them with two songs and two B-side instrumental tracks. One of those songs, the super-jangly "Chipo Chiroorwa", was their first hit. It deserved to be. "Chipo Chiroorwa" is not only jangly and jingly, but also blessed with a catchy groove and a set of lyrics so direct and simple that even someone like me, who doesn't speak a word of Shona, could feel tempted to sing along after a few listens. It's great 1970s Zimbabwean pop.

Keep in mind, though, that it doesn't sound like the pop music that was being produced by their foreign, English-speaking Western contemporaries. This music is based around strong circular repetition, not verse/chorus/verse. It's like a spring that keeps winding, unwinding, then winding again, a process that can go for hours, coming to an end only when the band runs out of stamina or the audience decides to stop dancing and go home. The dictates of vinyl singles mean that the songs on Analog Africa No. 1 run for roughly three minutes each, but the rotating rhythm is a constant presence, so much so that the first time I listened to the album I felt as if I'd heard one hour-long song sprinkled with incidental cosmetic changes.

It was only after I'd gone through the CD again that I began separating one track from another. "Nhengure" was the one with the muttered chorus. "Infalilibe Chisone" was the one that started with a bright calypso twinkle and sounded like a nursery rhyme until it began rewinding. "Nherera Zvichengete" was the quiet one. The notes I scribbled while I was listening to "Chechule Wavela Botom" report that it "was melty jam guitar trickling down," and "Amai Mandida", according to the same notes "sounds like singer's having a conversation with guitar which keeps trying to interrupt, then it gets squelchy mud puddle wah-wah and fuzzes duck-quack." Ayup.

It's not quite the essential purchase that the blurb on the back of the CD case suggests, but I'd recommend it nonetheless, not only for the high quality of the music, but also the love and devotion with which this reissue has been produced. The inlay booklet is a queen of its kind, stuffed with biographical information and reproductions of archive paraphernalia. You couldn't wish for a better short introduction to a band that has not had a lot of Western press. I haven't listened to the rest of the Green Arrows' back-catalogue, but I don't doubt that the 20 tracks on this album were selected with painstaking enthusiasm. If a more experienced third party told me that this is a perfect representation of the band as they were during the 1970s, I'd believe them without a qualm.

The only wrong note here is Analog Africa's website which is not a website at all. It's a placeholder page. The booklet tells me that I should go there to read the lyrics, which I'd love to be able to do, because I'm getting serious mondegreen action when Zexie Manatsa sings in English on "Towering Inferno", but there's nothing at analogafrica.com except a few bilingual notes. "Das ist eine beispielseite," it says. "This is an example page." Guys, what's going on?

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