The Very Best: A Band's Summer Escape With A Message

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Malawian singer Esau Mwamwaya and Swedish producer Johan Hugo met in a London thrift shop and soon became musical collaborators as The Very Best. (David Harrison)
Malawian singer Esau Mwamwaya and Swedish producer Johan Hugo met in a London thrift shop and soon became musical collaborators as The Very Best. (David Harrison)

The high-tech pop intro to The Very Best's song "Kondaine" suggests a carefree summer party. There's Afropop uplift to the sound and Top 40 melodiousness to the vocal.

The words mix English and Chichewa — Malawi's official language — and tell an absurdly frightening tale of a witch doctor's potion. In the song's video, three musicians partake in a gory animal-sacrifice ritual in an African village, at the end of which they turn into goats. That's The Very Best: sun and fun in the sound, and the problems and ambiguities of African life in nearly every lyric.

The Very Best is a fusion of African rhythm and melody with cutting-edge pop and dance music. The founders, Swedish producer Johan Hugo and Malawian singer Esau Mwamwaya started out with a successful mixtape posted on a blog. They followed up with a strong debut album, Warm Heart of Africa, and this summer released a second LP, MTMTMK. The band has yet to reveal the meaning of the title, but we do know that the basic tracks were recorded in Mwamwaya's hometown, Lilongwe.

The songs on the album range from folksy melodies to dense reggae, pumping techno club grooves and quirky pop songs. There are impressive cameos, too, including one from Toronto-based Somali rapper K'naan in "We OK."

That track perfectly expresses The Very Best's bold ethic. Even amid poverty, warfare and the privations of ghetto life, happiness is possible. You've heard of Afro-pessimism? Well, call this Afro-optimism: savvy, in tune with life, paradoxical perhaps, but in the hands of The Very Best, hard to resist.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

cover for The Very Best
cover for The Very Best

Copyright NPR. View this article on npr.org.