July 12, 2012

First Listen: The Very Best, 'MTMTMK' (ANN POWERS, 7/08/12, NPR)

The Very Best's official debut, Warm Heart of Africa, cemented the then-trio's position at the forefront of a new phase in the development of African-rooted music. It included cameos from hip time-zone trippers Ezra Koenig and M.I.A., and complemented the nearly psychedelic explorations of bands like Animal Collective.

Out July 17, MTMTMK is an altogether different effort, both catchier and more intense. Its songs, with lyrics written by Mwamwaya in English and the Malawian national language, Chewa, revel in the power of African sounds to shape a vision as wide as the world. (The Very Best has fun doing this: Check out the video for "Yoshua Alikuti," which parodies Lil Wayne's "A Milli," was filmed in Nairobi, and highlights a song protesting the regime of the now-deceased Malawian president Bingu wa Mutharika.) Mwamwaya's beefy wail communicates passion, humor and conviction, no matter what language he's using at the moment.

MTMTMK features many highly danceable earworms that could start any party and sound great on the radio. Renowned musical ambassadors K'Naan, Baaba Maal and Amadou & Mariam all make appearances. "Rumbae" even includes a hook which resulted from collaborations with "Dynamite" hitmaker Taio Cruz. Yet the focus and craft Hugo and Mwamwaya bring to MTMTMK only makes the music richer: "Rudeboy" and "We OK" (co-written with Bruno Mars) revive the spirit of new-wave genre-busters like The English Beat, whose pretty choruses were wrapped around sharp-edged stories of cultural collision and change.
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Posted by at July 12, 2012 6:03 PM
  

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