If you were lucky enough to catch Esau Mwamwaya and Radioclit Are The Very Best, the free mixtape that took the music world by storm when it came out in late 2008, then you were most likely blown away by Esau Mwamwaya's voice and Radioclit's ability to seamlessly create inventive mashups that conveyed creativity, originality, and most of all, potential.
That potential is realized and then some on Warm Heart of Africa, the debut full-length album from The Very Best out September 29, 2009 on Green Owl Records, that upholds their claim and reputation. While Warm Heart of Africa doesn't have the instant gratification of the mixtape, its grooves are every bit as infectious. The album also features guest appearances from industry icons Ezra Koenig of Vampire Weekend and M.I.A.
The Very Best's ability to fuse their disparate sensibilities so seamlessly is unprecedented. Esau Mwamwaya's irrepressibly vivacious voice makes no effort to hide his Malawian roots singing in his mother tongue, Chichewa, on over 95% of the album. Radioclit, Johan Karlberg and Etienne Tron, are able to blend their self-proclaimed "ghettopop" sensibility perfectly with Mwamwaya's African personality creating a uniquely contemporary international sound.
Radioclit showcases their ability to recreate a track with an original identity on the album's title track (my personal favorite song on the album). Remixing "Guitar Boy", a highlife song originally recorded by Nigerian star Sir Victor Uwaifo in the 1970's, Radioclit create a backdrop that's irresistibly catchy over which Esau Mwamwaya and Ezra Koenig of Vampire Weekend's voices dip and sore. The Very Best remix of "Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa" was one of the most popular songs off their mixtape; "Warm Heart of Africa" could be their signature hit this time around.
Other irresistibly danceable tracks include "Nsokoto", a beat that bumps hard like a club track yet still has an African identity. "Rain Dance" featuring M.I.A. is equally contagious and conveys a strikingly similar combination of raw African energy with an electronic dance beat. The Very Best remix of "Paper Planes" first caught international audiences attention, so it's good to see M.I.A. collaborating with the group again. "Kamphopo", a remix of "Heart it Races" by Architecture in Helsinki, is the only track held over from the mixtape.
Albums like this don't come around very often. The group's ability to turn mainstream audiences on to music with an unfamiliar African sound could result in a reception most African musicians singing in their native tongues are incapable of obtaining. Critics from mainstream outlets like the NY Times, Rolling Stone, Spin and a host of others have already lavished praise on the album, so time will only tell if mainstream listeners will open their minds, their ears and their wallets to give this album the success it deserves.