Music review: The Soil

Edinburgh Festival Fringe Scotsman review: The Soil at Assembly George Square (Venue 3), reviewed by Andrew Eaton-Lewis

This South African trio describe themselves as a “four-member a capella group” – the fourth, invisible member of the band being “the Creator of All”. The name derives from the notion that God sculpted the land, and that Buhlebendalo Mda, Ntsika Fana Ngxanga and Luphindo Ngxanga are the soil through which you might hear His voice, if you’re in the mood to listen.

It’s the kind of thing that usually makes this atheist want to run a mile, but The Soil don’t labour the point – they’re too busy just putting the idea into action, with some of the most gorgeous – and clever – music you’ll hear this Fringe.

While Luphindo Ngxanga, aka Master P, provides the beatboxing and the basslines, his two (visible) bandmates bring the close harmonies and the charm. Mda, in particular, is extraordinary, frequently earning whoops of applause with an unexpected Nina Simone-like growl or a soaring series of high notes. Ntsika Fana Ngxanga is “the talkative one”, constantly cracking jokes at Master P’s expense – every other song seems to be about some heartbreak or other this poor singer has endured.

It’s a shame, they tell us, that they only have an hour. Some of their songs – which touch on Afro-soul, jazz and a beautiful Miriam Makeba cover – usually get stretched out for a whole night around a barbecue in Soweto, as Mda tells us shortly after kicking off her shoes. By the end of that hour, I wanted to be at that barbecue.

The Soil sing about love, good times and community rather than God – the only direct reference to their fourth member being an early ode to joy, and all the ways that people find it. This is properly uplifting but also smart and sophisticated music, and it’s a shame that – 
on the night I saw them – their audience was a little thin. Go and share the joy, and if you have children, bring them. I took my ten-month-old daughter, and she was enraptured throughout.

MORE INFO: The Soil at Assembly George Square (Venue 3), until 26 August

Originally published in The Scotsman