Release Date: Apr 7, 2015
Record label: PIAS
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, International
The Very Best’s first two albums, Warm Heart Of Africa and MTMTMK, saw them charm critics and the general public alike with their highly original, feel-good brand of global electro pop. Shorn of original member (and French DJ) Etienne Tron, the Swedish-Malawian duo of Johan Hugo and Esau Mwamwaya decamped to a rented house on the shores of Lake Malawi for album number three. That apposite choice of location has paid off with a warmer, more pointedly African sound as insects provide environmental chatter and local villagers add laughs, jokes and musical accompaniment.
Afrobeat is a well-established and seemingly well-understood genre, although not without its potential snags. The sound initiated by African musicians like Fela Kuti caused ears to prick up in the West, and now Afrobeat is associated with the likes of Paul Simon and Peter Gabriel as much as it is with genuinely African music. Hanging half-on, half-off the world music shelf, the white Western Afrobeat manifestations of the 1980s sometimes feel uncomfortably close to cultural misappropriation, in spite of their good intentions and joyful sound.
A Swedish-Malawian duo who formed in a Hackney junk shop, the Very Best’s geographical origins underpin their global pop. Their 2009 debut, Warm Heart of Africa, featured MIA and Vampire Weekend. This third album was recorded in a remote Malawian village where the population is half-Christian and half-Muslim, and it hurls together tribal African cries, synths, trip-hop, EDM grooves, an appearance by Senegalese star Baaba Maal (on Umasiye) and the sound of local musicians and chirping crickets.
Being a half Malawian, half Swedish duo, The Very Best’s music is seemingly inevitably couched in hand-wringing postgrad babble which frets over the possibility of cultural imperialism before mercifully concluding that all that really matters is the music itself. But that’s not to say that their nationality is irrelevant; in fact, Makes A King in some ways only serves to reinforce those national stereotypes – on offer here is all the joyousness and grittiness and catharsis that you might expect from Malawian music, mixed with the incisive hooks and glossy production that has become more Swedish than Zlatan Ibrahimovic attacking a pile of tinned surströmming. That duality is hardly newsworthy; it’s one that has been winning The Very Best enthusiastic followers since their 2008 mix-tape Esau Mwamwaya and Radioclit are the Very Best unexpectedly morphed into a debut album, Warm Heart of Africa, which spent 2009 swimming in critical praise.
The third studio long player from the Swedish-Malawian duo, Makes a King finds The Very Best doing what they do the very best; offering up an alluring amalgamation of politically charged afro pop and slick European house music. Recorded in the lakeside Malawian village of M'dala Chikowa, Makes A King sports a small army of typically cosmopolitan guests, including Baaba Maal, Vampire Weekend bassist Chris Baio, Vaccines guitarist Freddie Cowan, Nigerian-born, London-based electro-pop maestro Seye, LA-based EDM specialist Jutty Taylor (Jutty Ranx), and Jerere, a local Malawian choir. A more bucolic, melodious, and immediate collection of songs than 2012's largely synth-based MTMTMK, Makes A King makes good use of both Esau Mwamwaya's powerful voice and the distinctive environmental sounds and regional instrumentation of M'dala Chikowa, and its best moments occur when the tones reflect the dazzle of the midday sun above ("Mwana Wanga," "Sweka," "Let Go").
In pop music years, 2008 feels like eons ago. That was the year that Radioclit—a duo of UK-based beat makers Etienne Tron and Johan Karlberg—and Malawian-born, London-based vocalist Esau Mwamwaya hopped on M.I.A.'s "Paper Planes". Sampling the Clash's "Straight to Hell", this British punk beat about Vietnamese bastard children of American GIs, as appropriated by a Sri Lankan refugee, and in turn recast by a Swede-French-African amalgam as "Tengazako" doubled as hip-pop utopia.
The Very Best has always been defined by geography. Vocalist Esau Mwamwaya hails from Lilongwe, Malawi, and bandmate Johan Hugo is a Swedish producer. They earned early attention with joyous samples and alterations of Western pop, transforming them into international super-jams. On their latest, Makes a King, they’re aided by guests who come with places to attach to their names: Senegalese vocalist Baaba Maal, London singer-songwriter Seye, and Chris Baio of the oh-so-New York City Vampire Weekend.
You know about the big releases each week, but what about those smaller albums which may have passed underneath your radar. Don’t miss out on the smaller, lesser-known gems which might become some of your favourites. We’ve rounded up six of the best new album releases from this week: catch up with Stealing Sheep’s new electronic direction, Coves’ spaghetti western pop and more.