Back in 2009, the production duo Radioclit and Malawi-born singer Esau Mwamwaya released the insanely upbeat debut album Warm Heart of Africa under the moniker The Very Best. The British producers and the African vocalist came together in a way that sounded seamless, each half contributing equal and powerful elements to the album. Now down to Mwamwaya and Johan Hugo, the gleefully collaborative experience continues to fulfill that original vision.
MTMTMK, the third proper album from the duo, ushers in the biggest change in the equation: Whereas Warm Heart of Africa had a giddy, grinning enthusiasm, this disc propels that mirth onto the dance floor. After an initiation of African horns and shouted vocals, album opener “Adani” finds the swagger of Western dance music (particularly the wobbles and warps of dubstep), and combines it with polyrhythmic auxiliary percussion and Chichewa-sung vocals. The swagger and bounce of the sub-bass and synth flutters of “I Wanna Go Away” are similarly energetic, the epic vocals parsing like some blend of M.I.A. ballad and Animal Collective round. Those artists’ eclectic worldliness is a natural byproduct of the smart, talented minds behind The Very Best.
“Rumbae”, on the other hand, falls far too far to one half of the equation, winding up in electronic emptiness. The mix of English and Chichewa in the vocals sounds lost in the middle of a sub-bass rumble-land, the whole thing a sleepy tromp lacking the energy that is the duo’s trademark. The Amadou & Mariam-featuring “Bantu” lingers in the opposite extreme, missing the idiosyncratic intensity of the rest of the album (though it does provide some welcome calm).
Thankfully, the majority of the album explores the middle of that spectrum, pushing the best of what everyone has to offer, melding things to a point at which it’s no longer a “world music” collaboration, but just an excellent new sound. The album closes with “We OK”, a song co-written by Bruno Mars and featuring K’Naan, the whole thing reminiscent of the worldly electro-pop of El Guincho. The slinky electric guitar, complex rhythms, mix of languages, and shimmery dance jam mentality wrap things up perfectly, lines blurred in the interest of the world’s best party.
Essential Tracks: “Adani” , “I Wanna Go Away”