The Very Best
Warm Heart of Africa
Hearing The Very Best for the first time is a disorienting - though, surprisingly, not unpleasant - experience. Is it new,old? Is it African, European? Is it silly, profound? It's the riding of the fine lines between opposites that makes The Very Best fascinating, not to mention the sweet voice of singer Esau Mwamwaya or the compelling electronic rhythms of his European partners. Etienne Tron of the production team Radioclit met Malawi-born musician Esau Mwamwaya while perusing an old bike in an East London used-furniture shop that Mwamwaya managed, and they soon began collaborating with Tron's partner Johan Karlberg. Their first project, a digital mixtape with Mwamwaya singing over remixes of pop songs, became an internet-based success with over 200,000 free downloads. They now have released their much-anticipated debut album of original material.
Though the trio has a few notable collaborators, including the British-Sri Lankan rapper M.I.A. and Ezra Koenig of the African-influenced U.S. band Vampire Weekend, the album is about the members' successful chemistry. The participation of Koenig and M.I.A. are particularly appropriate - like The Very Best, they seamlessly and effortlessly blend international styles - though their mixes are more heavily western and have been exponentially more successful commercially.
Much of the album is aimed at international dancefloors and is irresistibly upbeat. The singing is mostly in Chichewa, a Malawian language, with some English tossed in, such as the chorus on the title song: "Oh, the boys move fast, you should take it slow."
Mwamwaya's voice indeed embodies the warm heart of Africa and his knob-twisting collaborators wrap it in a shimmering, multi-layered wall of sound, often with overdubbed choruses of his voice. Certainly the vocals give the album an African flavor, but some of the songs, such as "Nsokoto" have the bass-thumping electronics moving to African-style polyrhythms. Though African music is not been in their background, the two Radioclit members seem to have been inspired by their new partner to move into new territory.
This fun concoction is very much a 21st century product, and is probably worth an ethnomusicology paper or two, but it's better appreciated for its energizing, partying spirit. - Marty Lipp
CD available from Amazon
Boulevard de l'Indépendance
World Circuit (www.worldcircuit.co.uk)
While some observers rightfully worry about the fading of traditional music in Africa, some African artists are cross-pollinating traditional elements to create hybrids that are as beautiful as they are varied.
Senegal's Cheik Lô has the expected Afro-Cuban cuts on his latest, Lamp Fall, but he also teams with Brazilian musicians, most notably on "Sénégal-Brésil," where he harnesses the deep rumble of a 40-strong Brazilian drum corps. Lô has not been a megastar, but this, his third album, shows him building a powerful legacy of great music. The widened palette here seems an effortless stretch. He and his tight band swing to reggae as well as Senegalese mbalax, while giving each a bit of a twist.
On Boulevard de l'Indépendance, Malian kora player Toumani Diabate performs with what he calls the Symmetric Orchestra, an ensemble of traditional and modern instruments from Africa and the rest of the world. While the kora has been matched with non-traditional instruments before, this album seems the fully realized dream of harmonizing African and western elements. It has the excitement of an artist finally getting a chance to work on a large canvas. When the orchestra grabs hold of a slamming rhythm, as it does on "Salsa," the maelstrom it kicks up creates music that seems to populate its own genre. - Marty Lipp
Available from Amazon.com
Boulevard de l'Indépendance
Other CDs by these artists available from cdRoots