I’ve covered the fantastic The Very Best on 17 Seconds before. In 2009, their debut Warm Heart Of Africa and in 2012 their second album MTMTMK both earned ****1/2 on this very blog.
The band – who are Malawian singer Esau Mwamwaya and Swedish producer Johan Hugo – are set to return in Spring next year with their as-yet-untitled third album. The first track to be released is the chilled and hypnotic ‘Hear Me,’ the video for which was released yesterday and you can stream at the top of the page.
Whilst I am usually loath to simply copy and paste an entire press release – in this case, I believed it to be worth it.
“Of the track, Johan Hugo says: “We wrote this song in May 2014, just days before the Malawi general elections. It was also the 50th anniversary of Malawi independence from colonial rule. One day we where sitting outside the house listening to the radio and Joyce Banda (the president that day) was talking about something to do with the election and progress, or lack of progress for Malawi as a nation. We put an iPhone next to the radio and recorded her voice. Thats the voice you can hear at the beginning of the song. Esau really wanted to write a song about the corruption, poverty and struggle of Malawi, and how frustrated he was about the fact that very little has changed since independence. We recorded the whole song that day, and the next day we asked the local church choir to come in and record some choir vocals for it. As with most vocals and instrumentation on this record, we recorded them outdoors, on the beach, singing the bridge and last chorus with Esau. Back in London a month later Chris Baio from Vampire Weekend came in and played bass on the song.”
Of the video he adds: “The Hear Me video was shot in M’dala Chikowa village in south Malawi, on Lake Malawi. M’dala Chikowa was also the location for the writing and recording of the album. Between writing songs and recording we would climb the mountains above the lake and set the camera up to take time lapses. Any time we wanted a break we would bring the camera on a tripod to the shop or to someone’s house and always leave it taking time lapses. We would sit for hours in the dark while the camera clicked away, working on a song, tweaking melodies or words. Mosquitos everywhere. Sometimes we would leave the camera running and trek back to the house, hoping no one would find it.”
The signs before I got this album were very strong indeed. Not only were the two tracks that did the rounds first ‘Yoshua Alikuti’ and ‘Kondaine’ pretty bloody amazing, but the videos that accompanied them were amazing as well. Then the album turned up, and showed itself to be a worthy successor to their 2009 debut, The Warm Heart Of Africa.
Since the debut came out Etienne Trot has left the group, so they are now a duo, Malawian singer Esau Mwamwaya and London-based Swedish producer Johan Hugo. Yes, this album may seem a little dancier than their previous album, but it is my pleasure to be able to report that the album builds upon the foundations of the debut.
There’s an impressive cast list that includes not only Baaba Maal, K’naan and Amadou & Miriam, but also, erm, Bruno Mars on ‘We OK.’ This is an album for the heart, as much as the feet and the ears. I can’t dance for toffee, but this album makes me wish I could. It’s not a plundering of African sounds for Western audiences any more than their debut was, but it is a welcome dash of sunshine, especially when we’ve had so little of it in Scotland so far this summer.
So addictive is this album that I’ve had it on repeated play on more than one occasion. Whatever the weather, get this on your stereo.
So yes, I was showing them some serious love round these parts back then. They are now back with their sophomore album MTMTMK, which is out in July on Moshi Moshi. Etienne Trot has left the group, so they are now a duo, Malawian singer Esau Mwamwaya and London-based Swedish producer Johan Hugo.
The Warm Heart of Africa featured appearances from M.I.A. and Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig, this album features appearances from Amadou & Mariam, Baaba Maal and K’naan amongst others.
The video for the album track “Yoshua Alikuti” was filmed in the Kiamaiko slum in Nairobi and directed by Kenya-based Village Beat, and spoofs Lil Wayne’s “A Milli” video. This all bodes well for the new album…
The Very Best -‘Warm Heart Of Africa’ (Moshi Moshi)
The Very Best is a collaboration between producers Radioclit and singer Esau Mwamwaya, the latter hailing from Malawi’s capital, Lilongwe. Esau was based in Clacton, East London for several years, where he ran a shop on the same street at Radioclit’s studio.
This album has been three years in the making, and if it’s worth spending time on, then it’s worth doing properly and this is what they have done. Calling upon contributions from Ezra Koenig of Vampire Weekend and the noughties goddess that is M.I.A, (two people who have also shown that collaborations between minority and majority world do not have to leave people with egg on their faces) this is likely to be one of the most exciting and vibrant albums you will hear this year. The highlights include both M.I.A’s collboration ‘Raindance’, Koenig’s collaboration on the tiel track and album opener ‘Yalira.’
It takes influences that include traditional Malawi music, Tchopa, Manganje, Vimbuza and African reggae, and in their own words ‘everything from Ludacris to Phil Collins.’ OK, so no-one’s perfect, but even the mention of a slaphead Tory should not be allowed to get in the way of an album that truly points out what a bloody silly label ‘world’ music is, and that this music is global in so many ways. Even in the freezing Scottish November, as this album replays on my iPod, I want to dance and embrace life.