At this point it isn’t a secret that, despite shunning several genres like mainstream pop and trap/hip-hop, my musical tastes can stray to very distant niches in the every corner of the world. Example A: The Very Best. Pressing play and listening to the fist 40 seconds of this and many other songs from The Very Best may leave you questioning my integrity as a alternative music critic (self-proclaimed, sure, but that’s beside the point). Yes, that Chichewa, the national language of Malawi that he’s speaking. Sure, this is a strange blend of dance, hip-hip, and traditional African music. But come on guys, just listen to that chorus. At some point, you’re just going to have to get over the fact that you don’t understand what these guys are saying and embrace the fact that truly beautiful music can cross major cultural and language-based barriers.
As one would guess with such a bizarre style of music, this group didn’t come together as a result of a great deal of planning. Lead singer Esau Mwamwaya grew up in Lilongwe, the capital of Malawi, where he played drums in local bands. He ended up moving to London in 1999, running a second hand furniture store. It was here that he serendipitously sold a bike to his now producer, Johan Karlberg. Karlberg worked in a music studio on the same street as Mwamwaya and they immediately hit off their love for all things sound. After producing their first record in 2008, the group was critically lauded and received offers to collaborate with groups like M.I.A., Vampire Weekend, Architecture in Helsinki, and The Ruby Suns, most notably seen with their popular track “Warm Heart of Africa” featuring Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig. So listen, let the culture seep in, and do what feels natural. Just dance, stupid.