5:09pm

Wed August 1, 2012
Music Reviews

The Very Best: A Band's Summer Escape With A Message

Originally published on Fri August 3, 2012 8:45 am

The high-tech pop intro to The Very Best's song "Kondaine" suggests a carefree summer party. There's Afropop uplift to the sound and Top 40 melodiousness to the vocal.

The words mix English and Chichewa — Malawi's official language — and tell an absurdly frightening tale of a witch doctor's potion. In the song's video, three musicians partake in a gory animal-sacrifice ritual in an African village, at the end of which they turn into goats. That's The Very Best: sun and fun in the sound, and the problems and ambiguities of African life in nearly every lyric.

The Very Best is a fusion of African rhythm and melody with cutting-edge pop and dance music. The founders, Swedish producer Johan Hugo and Malawian singer Esau Mwamwaya started out with a successful mixtape posted on a blog. They followed up with a strong debut album, Warm Heart of Africa, and this summer released a second LP, MTMTMK. The band has yet to reveal the meaning of the title, but we do know that the basic tracks were recorded in Mwamwaya's hometown, Lilongwe.

The songs on the album range from folksy melodies to dense reggae, pumping techno club grooves and quirky pop songs. There are impressive cameos, too, including one from Toronto-based Somali rapper K'naan in "We OK."

That track perfectly expresses The Very Best's bold ethic. Even amid poverty, warfare and the privations of ghetto life, happiness is possible. You've heard of Afro-pessimism? Well, call this Afro-optimism: savvy, in tune with life, paradoxical perhaps, but in the hands of The Very Best, hard to resist.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Finally this hour, techno pop from London with roots in Sweden and Malawi. This very international music group is called The Very Best. The collaboration began when a Swedish producer met a singer from Malawi in a London thrift shop. Reviewer Banning Eyre says their new album is an alluring summer escape with a message.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "KONDAINE")

BANNING EYRE, BYLINE: The high-tech pop intro to The Very Best's song "Kondaine" suggests a carefree summer party. There's Afro-pop uplift in the sound and top 40 melodiousness in the vocal.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "KONDAINE")

THE VERY BEST: (Singing) You walking on water. You walking on air. You sever like sleight of hand but hit me like a stadio man. You have a good diver. I'm down to the water, but I will walk you through and fly this thing away.

EYRE: The lyrics mix English and Chichewa - that's Malawi's official language - and tell an absurdly frightening tale of a witch doctor's potion. In the song's video, three musicians partake in a gory animal sacrifice ritual in an African village, at the end of which they turn into goats. That's The Very Best: sun and fun in the sound, but the problems and ambiguities of African life in nearly every lyric. Like this song, "I Wanna Go Away," which talks about escaping life amid civil war.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I WANNA GO AWAY")

EYRE: The Very Best is a fusion of African rhythm and melody and cutting-edge pop and dance music. Founders Johan Hugo and Esau Mwamwaya started out with a successful mixed tape posted on a blog. They followed up with a strong debut CD, and now "MTMTMK." The band has yet to reveal the meaning of this title, but we do know the basic tracks were recorded in Esau's hometown, Lilongwe.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG)

EYRE: The songs on the album range from folksy melodies like this one to dense reggae, pumping techno club grooves and quirky pop songs. There are some impressive cameos, including from Toronto-based Somali rapper K'Naan.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WE OK")

BEST: (Singing) The sky could fall down any day. Nothing lasts forever, anyway. As long as I've got you here with me, we OK, we OK. In my dreams, if all the stars should fall, you the first person I would call. We'll just sit back and watch it all. We OK. We OK. I've met this girl before. It wasn't long ago. She was so beautiful. She looked like Tamado. She's from the tougher Taffa, an African ghetto.

EYRE: This song, "We OK," perfectly expresses The Very Best's bold ethic. Even amid poverty, warfare and the privations of ghetto life, happiness is possible. You've heard of Afro-pessimism? Well, call this Afro-optimism: savvy, in tune with life, paradoxical perhaps, but in the hands of The Very Best, hard to resist.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WE OK")

BEST: (Singing) Who said we don't dance no more? Someone point him out. You, who said we don't move no more? Someone show him how we move. Who said we don't dance no more?

CORNISH: Banning Eyre is senior editor at afropop.org. He reviewed the album "MTMTMK" by The Very Best.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WE OK")

CORNISH: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.