In spite of their Amadou & Mariams and Bassekou Kouyates, take a trip into Africa and there’s every chance you’ll return home with Lionel Richie and Phil Collins nagging desperately in your ears with their cloying stalker-pop. That and kora-assisted Euro-house. Which is a shame, for two reasons: a) African pop is currently brilliant and b) Africa’s absorption of out-of-favour Western pop is much more impressive than the cringeworthy originals.
Tourist maps of Egypt have caricatures of [a]Robert Plant[/a] on them; [a]Tinariwen[/a]’s desert grooves owe something to Hendrix and Can; Kinshasa’s Konono No 1 make wibbly trance on tatty equipment left behind by Belgian colonialists and the grubbily lugubrious sound of South Africa’s kwaito is minimal house bent out of shape by the sun and given a galloping beat.
Malawi’s [b]Esau Mwamwaya[/b], however, is proof that even the West’s slickest and sickliest can be used well by inventive minds. Proffering a quandary for all those European and US hipsters filling carefully sourced seven-inch bags with rare disco, soul and funk curios from ’70s Benin, Esau was suckled on Messrs Richie and Collins and displays little shame in recalling them on this debut with Franco-Swedish duo Radioclit.
If [a]Vampire Weekend[/a] (their baroque interludes aside) plot a path between Jonathan Richman’s [b]‘Rock’N’Roll With The Modern Lovers’[/b] and ’80s highlife, The Very Best traverse an even more improbable, brightly-painted bridge between ’80s pop and [b]Malcolm McLaren[/b]’s sample-heavy experiment in Afro-hip hop, ‘Duck Rock’. Saluting The Very Best’s own skewed hybrid, VW’s Ezra Koenig provides vocals on the joyously goofy title track.
Elsewhere, The Very Best, who met in Esau’s east London junk shop, fidget like a child fed too many Skittles, refracting Esau’s love of ’80s anthemia through a kaleidoscope that throws together synth washes, the slinky metronome beats of kwaito, Caribbean soca, African gospel, tribal a cappella and indie-pop. The result is a twinkling, sweaty, euphoric thing that veers between a John Hughes soundtrack for the southern hemisphere, tropi-pop guilty pleasure ‘Ketchup Song’ and grimy, pan-African dance music.And with [a]MIA[/a] on the natty [b]‘Raindance’[/b], Esau, who sings in his sun-dappled Chichewa throughout, might just stop the winds of musical fashion blowing away from a continent Western folk are just getting to know.
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Click here to get your copy of The Very Best’s ‘The Warm Heart Of Africa’ from the Rough Trade shop.