Review : The Very Best - MTMTMK
PitchforkA lot of comparisons to Paul Simon's Graceland are cropping up in reviews of the Very Best's MTMTMK, even though the two albums have completely different contexts, styles, and lyrical aims. An American adult-contemporary pop star conscripting South African musicians in the last days of apartheid is not comparable to a breakout Malawian singer and a Swedish producer fusing Westernized Afro-pop with European dance music in 2012. Nor are the Very Best's direct appeals for sex ("Rumbae") and political change ("Yoshua Alikuti") particularly evocative of Simon's coded flights of imagery. The only thing the records really share is some African drumming. Still, the urge to mentally connect them is understandable.
Graceland provoked an anguished and multifaceted debate among white Westerners that was essentially about the ethics of globalization in music. The Very Best seemed custom-made to render it moot. The hand-wringing attained a fever pitch the mid-2000s, when Animal Collective started spiking their electronic goo with African rhythms and Vampire Weekend's preppy Afro-pop proved to be an emotional reflex hammer. But then came Esau Mwamwaya, flipping Vampire Weekend's "Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa" and giving everyone tacit permission to just chill out a bit. His later, glorious collaboration with Ezra Koenig, "Warm Heart of Africa", made the concept of musical authenticity as a caste system seem hopelessly obsolete.
In the 1980s, musical globalism was something Paul Simon had to construct, traveling abroad and breaking a cultural boycott. Now it happens more serendipitously: A French producer who works with a Swedish partner walks into a secondhand furniture shop in East London and meets a Malawian singer. On the Very Best's outstanding first mixtape and album, that sense of happy effortlessness was the secret sauce in a recipe that included handsome vocal melodies, lush yet vigorous electronic production, and the sun-beam vocal timbre of Mwamwaya. Unfortunately, the effortlessness ebbed after Etienne Tron quit, leaving Mwamwaya to work as a duo with Johan Hugo (né Karlberg) on the solid but indistinct Super Mom mixtape. MTMTMK is more satisfying, but it's still a bit overworked in ways that undercut its strengths....full text
GuardianOne of the pleasures of the Very Best's debut, 2009's Warm Heart of Africa, was that it sounded little like anything else at the time: Esau Mwamwaya's collaboration with Radioclit produced an irresistibly inclusive album of European pop with kwaito and highlife. Their second still bears that warmth and immediacy – the simple ebullience of Kondaine is a highlight ("We're walking on water/We're walking on air"), as is the dense and swirling Bantu featuring Amadou & Mariam – but the decision to supercharge so many tracks with clubbier beats – in other words, to make them sound a lot more like the rest of the charts – is disappointing....full text
RedeyechicagoThe Very Best, a London-based collaboration between Malawian singer Esau Mwamwaya and Swedish producer Johan Hugo, has a history of globalizing U.S. and European musical influences. Yet by including familiar reference points, the group also has tried tried to make global pop music, especially African pop music, more accessible to those same U.S. and European audiences. Its first mixtape featured interpolations of songs by artists as disparate as Michael Jackson, M.I.A. and Architecture in Helsinki; the video for the Very Best’s latest single, “Yoshua Alikuti,” pointedly references Lil' Wayne's “A Milli” video....full text
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