The Very Best’s MTMTMK: AfroPop for the Modern Masses

ImageThis album has been my jam for several months, but I wanted to wait until the end of summer (and attending their show in Chicago) to make sure.  The duo are Malawian singer Esau Mwamwaya and Swedish producer Johan Hugo, who met in a London thrift shop and soon became musical collaborators as The Very Best.

We’ve come a long way from Paul Simon’s Graceland, but I can imagine what it must have felt like the first time people heard Ladysmith Black Mambazo emerge from a sea of new wave and hair metal.  Inherently danceable, with Hugo’s infectious, bouncy, edgy beats offset by Mwamwaya’s joyous multilingual vocals, MTMTMK embodies the spirit of modern globalism. This music would not be possible without internet technology and travel capabilities, and TVB’s growing mainstream notoriety is (hopefully) indicative of Africa’s broadening appeal beyond typical “world music” enthusiasts.

Recording for the duo’s second LP began unsuccessfully in New York, but their inspiration flowed once the duo ventured to Lilongwe, Mwamwaya’s hometown.  You can practically taste the heat and the pent-up, flavorful energy of West Africa’s clubs in each track.  With distinguished featured guests such as Baaba Maal, Xuman, and Mo Laudi, and a wide range of instruments from flutes to synths, it’s a zazzy, eclectic mix whose range from hip-hop to dancehall to dubstep and reggae-inspired (inspiring?) cuts.

ImageYou know you love a song when you don’t know the words and can’t help but embarrassingly sing approximated Malawian lyrics on your parents’ suburban backyard deck.  My favorites are harmony-filled bootyshakers like “Kondaine”  (You’re walking on water/you’re walking on aiiiir) and the obvious radio hit choice “We Ok,” (who say we don’t dance no more?/someone point him out!) featuring irresistible “yeee-yoooooos” and geography bee-worthy shout-outs to a litany of places where I can only dream of partying.   It’s overwhelming and glorious and exhausting in a great way, like a crazy fun night that leaves you smiling and reminiscing to yourself the whole day after.

The band created a Twitter contest to guess what the mysterious acronym of the album title meant, and they finally revealed the answer on Pitchfork TV on August 14th (my birthday — coincidence? Or destiny?): it stands for More To Malawi Than Madonna’s Kids.  Yes, there so is, and I can’t wait to wave my whitegirl hands in the air like I just don’t care and rejoice with 500 of my closest human incidental friends at their show.


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