May 22, 2015

The Very Best - Warm Heart of Africa

At the very least, this is some of the most joyous, life-affirming music out there. The Very Best's debut album finds Malawian singer Esau Mwamwaya and London-based production duo Radioclit (Etienne Tron and Johan Karlberg) more than making good on the promise of the internet mixtape that introduced their partnership to the world. That tape, one of 2008's most celebrated (and celebratory) releases, displayed a truly boundary-defying yet immediately cohesive and recognizable sound: a euphoric global mélange of pop, dance, hip-hop, world-folk, sunny indie rock, electronica, cinematic new age lushness, and the African sounds of marabi, highlife, and kwaito, all highlighted by Mwamwaya's deliriously infectious Chichewa crooning. This time out, without the launch pad of familiar source material that sometimes made the mixtape's slew of remixes, interpolations, and covers feel slightly like a cheeky arithmetic mashing-up of reference points, the threesome have crafted something even more distinctive and organic, dissolving together their panoply of influences into a set of songs (not merely "tracks") that feel blissfully free of formulas and forerunners.

To be sure, The Very Best's sound is essentially an extension of the globalism already increasingly prevalent in 21st century indie and dance music; a connection reaffirmed by a pair of delightful guest appearances from two of that trend's most visible exponents. Ezra Koenig of Vampire Weekend, whose "Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa" was marvelously reworked on the mixtape, returns the favor here by duetting with Mwamwaya on the album's irresistibly effervescent title track. The other big guest shot, naturally enough, is from M.I.A., reigning monarch and mascot of globetrotting beat excursions, who can't help but inspire some smiles on the silly, spunky "Rain Dance." But Mwamwaya hardly requires a famous foil to be utterly captivating. His voice, which is often multi-tracked into toothsome harmonies, is equally capable of conveying majesty, urgency, and exuberance; sometimes -- as on the giddily anthemic "Julia" (which borrows a bit of "Paper Planes"' lazily loping swagger) -- all three at once. But if that voice is undeniably essential to the group's sound, Radioclit's contributions shouldn't be understated either: Karlberg and Tron have outdone themselves with a kaleidoscopic array of Afro-leaning grooves to complement Mwamwaya's contagious melodicism, relying remarkably little on their typically gritty, muscular "ghetto-pop" style. While there are some traces of more straightforward club-derived rhythms - the percussive "Nsokoto" and glittery "Mfumu" both gesture toward disco's 4/4 thump, while the string-laced "Kada Manja," in an amped-up variation on the mixtape's "classical" version, flirts with the hard-hitting sound of kuduro - most of the album is eminently danceable without slotting neatly into any specific idea of "dance music."

But as vivacious and energetic as it is, there's something even more fundamentally potent and potentially profound going on here (not to suggest that dancing isn't profound -- indeed, that might be precisely the point). Take "Chalo," an unabashedly uplifting barrage of Enya-esque synth stabs which was reportedly (amazingly) recorded on the same night that the group's three members first met, and whose lyrics they've described as about "using love to stop the world's problems." This is the sort of thing that helps explain why The Very Best can sport such a ticklish moniker with such evident aplomb: somehow, with these guys, it comes off not so much as a boast (albeit an improbably credible one) but as an encapsulation of the boundless optimism and idealism reflected in their songs and in their sound -- a fervent, infectious belief in music's power to bring out the very best in the world and in the human spirit. 

The problem with hearing so much music is it gets harder to be surprised. But this album defies all preconceptions and never settles into a genre that you could name and locate on the shelves or download menus.

From the minute it starts, there's an authority to the production, as if it knows what it's doing and where it's going. The sounds are well-recorded and neatly balanced, and, just as you start to realise that you don't understand the words and can't figure out which country the singer is from, you've reached track three and somebody is singing in English. Check the sleevenotes and you find it's Ezra Koenig from Vampire Weekend, singing impressively high and passionately on the title track, a duet. Quite what he and the other singer are saying is hard to ascertain. Are they celebrating the PLO?
Either way, having established that Warm Heart of Africa is no ordinary record, I go back to the opener, Yalira, and it becomes apparent that there are some words in English on this one, too, with references to Malawi and Bob Marley, but the nationality and style of the music remain unclear. The keyboard on track two (Chalo) plays triplets like on Supertramp's Dreamer, and the whole song has a retro 80s feel, harking back to Peter Gabriel and Salif Keita. All very impressive, but neither track feels like a proper song. That problem evaporates with the strong melody of the anthemic Warm Heart of Africa, though I'm still baffled by the reference to their "favourite PLO".

There's an impression of a band, with a lot of voices on several tracks, on this collaboration between the European production team Radioclit – who used to host a radio show on the internet and who refer to their sound as "ghetto-pop", combining as it does hip-hop and grime, along with myriad African dance styles – and the Malawian singer Esau Mwamwaya. Improbably, they met in Esau's second-hand shop in east London's Clapton, where one-half of Radioclit, Frenchman Etienne Tron (his colleague Johan Karlberg is Swedish), had gone to buy a bike. They surrendered to fate and decided to work together.

Warm Heart of Africa is reported to have evolved out of a mixtape sent out to various tastemakers towards the end of last year, when it was listed in several top 10s. Encouraged, Radioclit decided to produce this 13-track album, which, after those first few more-or-less normal songs, switches gear into what could be classified as dance music, although it never surrenders to a cliched four-to-the-floor bass drum. Instead, a variety of backgrounds are laid down for Esau to sing over; often multi-tracked, these sound like the work of a vocal group. On Julia, a squeaky electronic keyboard wails away in the background, while MIA joins the fray on Rain Dance, chanting over a jungle drum track. A string quartet slow things down elegantly on Kada Manja until, finally, a multi-voice choir on Zam'dizko brings Warm Heart of Africa to a standstill. The more I listen, the better it gets, especially towards the end of the album.

The live clips of the Very Best on YouTube suggest an almost chaotic stage presence, and this very easy-on-the-ear debut may inspire many imitators.


May 18, 2015

"It's Not About The UK, America, Or South Africa... It's About Global Culture"

An Interview With Fantasma's Spoek Mathambo

Fantasma are not a band. At least, not in the traditional sense. They're a collective, whose rich background is as culturally eclectic as their home country of South Africa. Like South Africa, they draw on a vast range of influencesfrom the contemporary, to the traditionalprocessing all of that into something pan-global with a rich heritage. In fact, the more Spoek Mathambo told us, the more it felt like Fantasma are a microcosm of South African culture; vibrant, boundlessly enthusiastic, and inventive.

Free Love, their debut album out on March 9, may not be out yet but we've already been treated to the first single, "Eye Of The Sun". We're not impatient, mind you: Fantasma are a group of talents you could never hurry, even if you wanted to. The fruits of their labour have come about in a way that is, if you excuse the embarrassing cliché, organic. There's no blueprint for how to write a Fantasma song, indeed much of it was birthed from countless hours of jam sessions, improvisations and spontaneity—none of which can be recreated.

Spoek Mathambo, often held as the frontman, has had an extensive career in music which has seen him collaborate with traditional South African musicians from the local townships, French electro producers and, of course, Fantasma. He speaks candidly with Complex UK about his new "collective", his colourful past, and his busy future.

You’ve collaborated with lots of artists in the past but you said it felt "dishonest." How has the democracy of being in a band affected your music?

Well, I don't think 2015 is really a time for the conventional band. Things with Fantasma still work in lots of different ways; in terms of who starts a song, not everybody is on every song. No one in particular starts any song. The term "band" has a lot of its own implications, and I think of us as more of a collective and it's not a collective that ends with the five of us, there's a lot of other people that we work with.

There's a lot of different elements and you all come from such different backgrounds. How do you balance all these influences without it becoming too overcrowded?

If you listen to the album, you can just hear how we've moved away from putting everything upfront. The first song we ever did, I think, was "Eye Of The Sun" and, since then, we've probably done 25 other songs. "Eye Of The Sun" is everyone kind of going full-steam, going crazy! Since then, we've all learned a bit. Bhekisenzo's 45 and his background is in really traditional Zulu music, so he didn't even really get the electronic side of it. He doesn't listen to that music, it's not of his world, but since working with us he's really found his unique voice within the group. As the year's gone on, from month one to month two to month eight, when we put the album together, made huge leaps and bounds and it was some of the best music I've ever been involved with writing. It's very streamline.

A lot of the band speak different languages. Did that make writing and recording together challenging?

Well, South Africa has 11 languages either way, so it's how I've been raised. I think, for a large part, white people have isolated themselves from learning a lot of the African languages but I've been raised in neighbourhoods, and even in my household, my mother's a Khoe-San, my dad's a Dewani. I grew up in a Soto neighbourhood in a Zulu town, so, you know... 

Do you think non-western music is being taken more seriously now? It seems like people are more understanding of the cultural nuances.

The most interesting thing, for me, has been club music. South Africans took in Chicago house in the late '80s and early '90s then, in the late '90s and 2000s, we fed the world back our version of house music. On dancefloors, when you're playing in clubs, it's not like that world music scene that your weird barefoot aunt went to. Those songs are played a lot in the club. It might be in Miami, it might be in Ibiza. There's just more of a global club language. Also, within that, there's been all sorts of different club scenes, such as kuduro or Baile funk, with all the vibrancy of a club that you couldn't lump alongside "world music." I think that movement that's happened over the last 15 years has been vital to shifting people's ideas of what contemporary non-western music can be. 

Do you think South African artists are a bit more open to eclectic influences, not worrying about what scene it's from or whether it's cool?

I think, at this point, it's not about the UK, America, or South Africa... It's about global culture. It's about the internet. It's about living in the information age where those walls and tribes have been broken down. It's not 1991, where you have to be a head-banger and have long hair and only listen to these bands from this place. A lot of people are still obsessive in that way but, for the most part, you can be as into heavy metal as you are into grime nowadays. It's changed.

Back to Fantasma, when you're playing with the collective, does it feel like you can collaborate on a deeper level, working with them on a more long-term basis?

Over the last year, I've been really dedicated to Fantasma. Since December though, we've been working on a whole new suite of music, which is even further in and we're gelling even more. It's just a continued journey, and hopefully we can have a long relationship working together. 

You recently completed work on the Sound Of Mzansi documentary. How does filmmaking compare, as a medium, to music?

Well, the process is a lot longer. We went all the way from pre-production, from being on all the shoots to preparing all the interviews, and then the editing, grading, and post-production. We took on the project in its entirety. Compared to music, it's so much less immediate, more long-term. With music, you can get in the studio and release a song tomorrow! There's a lot of labour in filmmaking. There's so many small things, like even down to transcribing the film for subtitles!

You were once asked if Fantasma would be touring more but you said you wanted the band to "build up the telepathy" before touring too much. Are you at that level yet?

The shows are just getting better, and better. You get to a certain point where you only get better by playing, but there's a lot of stuff that rehearsal can't take into account. There's a lot of spontaneity that needs to be driven and inspired, and that's where we're working towards. We just want to have fun, and be expressive. It's not about the sloppiness, it's really to loosen up and just be spontaneous. 

When Frank Zappa auditioned people for his bands, he would test their ability to improvise and adjust to spontaneous changes in time signature. Do you have a similar audition process?

[Laughs] No! That's not really what it's about. What I feel like I'm doing with the documentary, capturing this moment in time and documenting what's been happening over the last five years in South African electronic music, it's of broader cultural significance than that. It's not athletics, you know? I don't mean broader cultural significance, in terms of posterity, it has significance for the artist to realise the broader global context of their work. So people coming up in the same dingy ghettos and townships, to see what possibilities are. Most of the people we profile aren't really in the limelight, and it's the same thing with our collective. I met DJ Spoko while making the film, actually.

Right, so what's coming up for Fantasma, and yourself, for the coming months, years?

We've got our SoundCloud that we post bits and bobs that we're working on, so check that out. In terms of the next releases we're be doing, there's going to be 12"s coming out, all kinds of dubs from the camp, and more collaborations with different producers throughout South Africa. I'm just going to bunker down and bring in a lot more of the exciting producers, vocalists, and instrumentalists in South Africa. The Fantasma family's just getting wider and more interesting, and the sounds are getting more solidified.

Originally published @

May 7, 2015

From Sweden: Music Is The Weapon - EP1

At night, Music Is The Weapon gazed into the dark. The stars became torches. Out there they found Sven Johansson at Fashionpolice Records, a producer who dynamited their minds to perceive new galaxies of sound and music. Voices whispered in every corner of the universe, in every language that ever existed. And Music Is The Weapon listened.



01. Black hole
02. Neptune
03. Ghost
04. Love

Check out at their bandcamp page!

May 4, 2015

From Cameroon: Jo Tongo

Jo Tongo. Through lack of resource on the continent in those days, Tongo left Africa for Paris in 1976 to record what came to be one of his most successful hits. Start with a combination of rhythm guitar and drums, along with some iconic wah wah effect lead guitar and signature afrobeat horns and you will get heads turning. Add to that Onyeabor-style keyboard synths and irresistible fender bass solo lines played by Tongo himself and you have something pretty special.

Born and raised in Douala (Cameroon), West Africa, Jo Tongo is the eldest brother of a large family. From an early age he was influenced by his fathers music who plays the violin and upstraight bass and his grandfather, the Reverand Alfred Tongo Diboundou, who played organ church.

At the age of 13, Jo Tongo was gifted with an acoustic guitar by one of his uncles and through studying guitar books, he taught himself how to play, read and write music and excelled music theory.
At age 15 he joined the high school band as a guitarist and within two years he became the band leader, while in Yaounde, the capital. At the same time, Jo set up his first band in Douala with his young friends, the "Rock'n Chach", mixing up African, Caribbean and American soul music. He composed his own music and his unique sound set him apart from other bands in the region, caughting the attention of radio stations which played his music in Douala and Yaounde.

Not all was smooth sailing for Jo's father was not supportive of his son's desire to become a professional musician and sent him to Paris where he studied pharmacy for a couple of years. While in Paris, he took up classic piano and obtained a degree from the Paris National Superior Academy of Music. A few years later Jo Tongo was determined to pursue his love of music and became a professional musician playing with the best musicians in Paris, the likes of Manu Dibango, Françis Bebey, Joseph Kabassele, Franklyn Bokaka,to name a few.

Jo was living his dream as he was involved in studio recording sessions in studio with African and European artists. Gerard Akueson gave Jo and opportunity to make his first record featuring what we could call "World-music" today.

On his second record, Jo turned to a kind of Afro funk music, very original and exciting, mixing up African and American R&B sounds. Jo was given the battle name of Jojo L’Explosif ( Jojo the Explosive ).

In 1968, after he recorded his second record (Get it the way I like & Non Non Non ), the young artist was invited to a concert in the "Salons Des Ambassadeurs " in the "Champs Elysees " in Paris and prominent African and Caribbean artists were backed by Manu Dibango as they performed before Parisian ambassadors.

Jo's (Jojo) performance earned him a standing ovation and Gisèle Baka, a Caribbean singer and manager invited Jojo to another concert she organized in "Olympia", in Paris, two months later, in commemoration of Doctor Martin Luther KING Jr. death.

The young man acting as a music director and conductor, was arranging beautiful music for other artists as Uta Bella and Manu Dibango. Jo took classic orchestration lessons and arrangement from Vladimir Kodjoukarov, the conductor of the French National Classic Orchestra.( Orchestre National de Paris ).

Jo Tongo's career took a turn as he became the most popular african artist and his fame allowed him to play for African heads of states like Nyassibwe Eyadema of Togo, Yakubu Gowon of Nigeria, Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire( Democratic Republic of Congo), Ahmadou Ahidjo of United Republic of Cameroon, Prince Albert II of Monaco.

Jo Tongo formed many connections including with American pianist and singer Memphis Slim, the King of Boogie Woogie and Mike Brant, a singer from Israel who became a legend in France.
In 1976, after performing in Midem, Cannes, Jo Tongo created a new band he called Tumbalo. Patrick, Alex and Chris Francfort (now called The Gibson Brothers) asked Jo if they could become members of his new band. Vicky Edimo also joined Tumbalo and the group recorded 10 songs for Decca, however the record was never released.

This setback did not stop the ambitious and talented artist whose music was featured in " Femme De Sa Vie" a French movie starring reknowned French actress Emmanuelle Beart and his music was also featured in "Never Ever", an American movie with a well-known French actress Sandrine Bonnaire.
Nowadays Jo Tongo added Reggae music to his influences. He backed Ky-Mani Marley, one of Bob Marley's sons, who came to Cannes Festival of Cinema for "One Love", a movie he produced in 2004.


Jangolo (Les Mangues) 4:53
Boso Bongo (Ton Visage) 3:23
A'Muna (Petit Enfant) 3:40
Ewande (Ma Fiancée) 4:05
Piani (Conte Douala) 4:40
Wenge (Aujourd'Hui) 4:25
Muasa Loko (Joue) 3:30
Kiele 3:15


May 3, 2015

From Australia: Keyim Ba - Mami Wata

AUSTRALIA has a new West African band capable of holding its own on the world stage. Formed in early 2009 following the release of Sibo Bangoura’s CD of the same name, Sydney-based Keyim Ba is led by the charismatic kora and percussion-playing singer and his brother Mohamed, a master percussionist, on a new album that includes, alongside band compositions, several songs written by their Paris-based sibling Epizo, who helped launch the second wave of Afro-Australian acts in the 1990s.

From a Guinean griot (traditional minstrel) family, the Bangoura brothers are the real deal. So is their lead guitarist, Malian Moussa Diakite, who once worked for the legendary Super Rail Band and performed with Salif Keita. Senegal-born percussionist Yacou Mbaye’s expertise on the talking drum and doun doun (bass drum) is a salient feature on several tracks. Afro Mandinko’s Lamine Sonko adds an arresting guest rap to the title track.

While the emphasis is on up-tempo, high energy rhythms, there’s variety on Mami Wata, including a palm wine song to which jazzy piano is a welcome add-on; a soukous-style dance number; a funky reggae work with spoken vocals; a lilting healing song and a percussion jam jammed with exciting cross-rhythms. The set’s standout track, Bawama, starts slowly but morphs into a compelling afrobeat dance groove. Another trad piece, Fore, features talking drum in tandem with cowbell and balafon. 

This Sydney All-Star band of West African musicians - leader Sibo Bangoura, his brother Mohamed, both from a Guinean griot family, Senegalese percussionist Yacou Mbaye and Salif Keita Band alumni guitarist Moussa Diakite are back with a varied and vibrant second album.

Simon Olsen, Blair Greenberg and Julian Bel-Bachir play bass, guitar and drums and Rachel Bangoura and Miriam Lieberman sing backing vocals and the group ranges from traditional, all-percussion pieces through to funk and African rap songs. We'll also hear from Elissa Goodrich's new album, a partially-improvised interpretation of JS Bach's Cello Suite No. 3, for her solo marimba and her marimba in duo with other instruments.


Just returned from their National Tour, KEYIM BA are back and ready to release their much awaited for new album – ‘Mami Wata’ – an exciting new cd, bringing the influences of reggae, funk and rap to West African grooves. Heralded as “an Afro-Australian treasure”, this brilliant 9 piece band has a rhythm section born in West Africa. Led by the ever charismatic, Sibo Bangoura from Guinea, the group has enormous energy, giving tradition a modern twist that never fails to fill the dancefloor. " exuberant, celebratory outfit that literally party their way through the many colours and flavours of Bangoura's West African background..." - Cristina Dio, Diaspora Worldbeat 'Mami Wata', recorded at The Grove and Rifton Records, is expected to take Australian world music lovers by storm. A clever mix of traditional sounds with an urban groove, very much Keyim Ba's signature sound. Joined by a collection of stellar guest musicians on the recording include Lamine Sonko (One Africa), Jason Heerah (Electric Empire), Nick Garbett, Matthew Ottignon, Ben Kidson, Byron Mark and Danny G. Felix. Djembe powerhouses brothers Mohamed & Sibo Bangoura, are joined by Yacou Mbaye from Senegal on Doun Doun ,Talking Drum, Sabar & Congas; Moussa Diakete from Mali, the former guitarist to Salif Keita on lead guitar and Simon Olsen, (Malian roots)of Electric Empireon bass. Joined also by Sydney musician Blair Greenberg on guitar, Julian Bel-Bachir on percussion and the captivating vocals of Sydney-based singer/song writer, Miriam Lieberman with Rachel Bangoura on the dancefloor. 

Check out @

May 2, 2015

The Sure Fire Soul Ensemble - The Sure Fire Soul Ensemble

"The deep funk revival was ignited way back in the 90s by The Poets of Rhythm in Germany, the Dap-Kings family in New York.. or, before anyone else, The Greyboy Allstars in San Diego, where a new instrumental soul band is following in the footsteps of its elders: The Sure Fire Soul Ensemble. Their blend of influences from those 3 legendary bands is surely addictive, and their first 45 is announcing some great news for the future!" - Paris Djs

"A few months back, San Diego collective The Sure Fire Soul Ensemble released a heavy instrumental 7” titled “Layin Low” b/w “IB Struttin” which packs a punch. Both the A & B sides have everything that we’re looking for in this style of music, heavy drums, funky horns, guitars and beefy baselines and a nice Afro flair to round things out." - Hot Peas & Butta

"I’d hazard a guess, but there aren’t too many outfits branding themselves ‘heavy cinematic soul” bands in San Diego, let alone any other place. That’s a very specific niche and sound, and from what we’re hearing so far, these guys have it on lock.

Atmospheric, funky, and the moody is the vibe TSFSE give off. If you are a fan of the organ (and we know you are), some gritty Funk, and beautiful original soundtracks, these guys are for you." - Flea Market Funk



Apr 29, 2015

From DR Congo: Mbongwana Star - From Kinshasa

Mbongwana Star, a newly formed 7-piece band from the Democratic Republic of Congo, are preparing for the May release their debut album, ‘From Kinshasa’, and associated European tour.

Coco Ngambali and Theo Nzonza first formed a band fifteen years ago, inspired by their love of Congolese rumba and its pantheon – Franco, Tabu Ley Rochereau and Pépé Kallé. That band, Staff Benda Bilili, hit the big time: two major albums, a world tour and starring roles in the acclaimed film ‘Benda Bilili’. Inevitably, the big time hit right back. The band collapsed under the weight of its own success.

But in the shanty-villages of Kinshasa – Africa’s third largest city - bands are recycled along with everything else. Music and musical instruments, just like fashion, art, jewellery, pedal-power contraptions and motor vehicles, all rise from the inexhaustible scrap heap. Coco and Theo gathered up the necessary parts of a band from the younger generation, crammed them together and started belting out a shambles under the name Mbongwana Star – ‘mbongwana’ meaning ‘change’. They were indeed looking for change, for something new.

That’s when they met Liam Farrell, aka Doctor L, a maverick musician and producer on the Parisian hip-hop and electro scenes who produced Tony Allen’s ‘Black Voices’ and who was looking to find the punk ethic alive in Kinshasa’s raucous swelter-skelter. The music that Coco and Theo played to Doctor L was vigorous - a heedless mass assault of percussion, guitars and voices on the edge of tearing itself apart with its own momentum. Some form of collaboration seemed inevitable.

Though he’d eventually play on and mix the album, Doctor L initially set out simply to record as much as he could, chipping away, paring down, honing. “It’s all recorded in the red,” he says over a dodgy Skype connection. “Sometimes I over-boost mikes that are recording nothing, just to pick up the kind of environment that’s around me now. Can you hear it? There are three TVs going full blast. Distortion multiplies the energy. I love it!”

And the result? A fusion (‘too smooth and seamless a word for this angular hodgepodge’ according to The Guardian) of traditional Congolese rhythms with a big fistful of European post-punk bass and busted electronics. ‘Afrobeat with a solid steel casing’, says Fact Magazine.

So this isn’t what you would expect from a Congolese band or even an African sound. Like the weird Congo Astronaut that haunts their first video, ‘Malukayi (feat. Konono No.1)’, Mbongwana Star is a naturally occurring, smashed-together combination of things that’s both unexpected and somehow inevitable, too. It’s made from bits of the past and points toward a strange but exciting kind of future, but more importantly you can tell that it’s just loving the present.