African Soul, Western Dressing
The Very Best are a group that could only come together in a cosmopolitan, global city — London in this case. It requires a city that has a magnetic charm, a gravitational pull capable of drawing in people from every corner of the globe, that also has the density and heterogeneity necessary for the possibility of serendipitous, cross cultural connections. There are few places where a Swede, a Frenchman, and a Malawian would manage to cross paths and end up together in a studio, creating an intoxicating blend of African and Western musical influences. The vocals, heavy on the Malawian flavor, skew traditional, while the production and treatment are based firmly in hip-hop, indie rock, and house music.
Most of the lyrics are not in English. If Wikipedia is to be believed, they’re probably in Chewa, so there are few clues as to what the songs are, for lack of a better word, “about.” That said, Esau Mwamwaya’s vocal delivery is capable of conveying a shockingly varied range of emotion, which the backing tracks only serve to amplify and enhance.
Without a wide knowledge of contemporary African music, one is unfortunately left trying to sheepishly describe many of the songs on this album in regards to the Western elements, saying that a song is like “blank” with African vocals and flourishes. “Guju Guju” manages to evoke LCD Soundsystem and Kraftwerk in equal parts, while “Let Go” feels like the Pixies viewed through a U2 lens. Then there are songs like “Kanyale” that almost defy description through a Western perspective; in this case, it’s kind of like Primitive Radio Gods’ “Standing Outside A Broken Phone Booth With Money In My Hand,” except incredibly not.
Calling a musical project “The Very Best” takes a boatload of self-assuredness, bordering on braggadocio. Whether or not The Very Best are truly the best or even the very best is a subjective matter of personal preference. What can be said objectively is that they are damn good at what they do and that Makes a King is an inspired combination of globally separated musical influences.