Ambitious, lyrically intensive projects such as Mbayah, the product of an ethnically varied ensemble from Equatorial Guinea, face serious obstacles to widespread acceptance and appreciation. Because the lyrics are rendered in the Fang language rather than one of the few global mass tongues, few of this fine recording's listeners stand any realistic chance of understanding them. Maria Nsue's rendition of the underlying "Legend of the Weeping Willow," reproduced in the liner notes, is enlightening, but the 11 tracks of this recording must be valued by most of us solely on the basis of their sound. The news here is good.
Mbayah opens with "Mamango," its light, galloping hand percussion undergirding (Mel: ???) a haunting melody carried by flute and marimba. It is reprised late on the recording, featuring the dusky vocal of Daniela Imendgi, dramatically supported by a mixed chorus. "Ofuas" illustrates the stylistic range of the recording, techno hip-hop snap-like percussion in straight time, contrasted with polyrhythmic log and drum beats, topped off by the deep vocal of Barón Ya Búk-Lu, both sung and spoken. The Equatoguinean vocal duo Hijas del Sol intones beautiful tight harmonies over distant thunder and forest sounds in "Ikopë," followed immediately by the long "Kargayah," dense log percussion and multi-part chants reminiscent of the South Pacific sounds of Te Vaka. The story concludes with "Bisila," calm and poppy with Spanish overtones, Fender Rhodes keyboard, and Muana Sinepi's high, reedy female vocal. The sonorous musical performance and explanatory liner notes make Mbayah compelling listening. - Jim Foley
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