The Very Best: A Would-Be Lion Chaser's Backup Plan

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Esau Mwamwaya and Johan Karlberg perform and record as The Very Best. (Courtesy of the artist)
Esau Mwamwaya and Johan Karlberg perform and record as The Very Best. (Courtesy of the artist)

How do a Swedish producer and a Malawian singer end up collaborating? The partnership that became The Very Best was sparked several years ago, when Johan Karlberg stopped into a London secondhand store that was run by the Malawi-born Esau Mwamwaya, and the two started talking music. But Karlberg says his interest in African music traces back decades further — beginning with the first time he heard Paul Simon's Graceland.

"I must have been 4 or 5, I think, when it had just come out," Karlberg tells Guy Raz, host of weekends on All Things Considered. "I think more than anything it was Ladysmith Black Mambazo, like the a capella part of it, that really hit home with me.

"It's not like I can say, 'From then on my whole life has been around African music,'" he clarifies. "But still, I grew up wanting to be a nature photographer, so Africa was always close to my heart because my dream was to work in the Serengeti and film lions. I guess subconsciously, the music went with my other dreams. So it doesn't feel like a coincidence or like a strange thing that I'm sitting here with Esau as The Very Best these days. It all looks like this beautiful journey of things working out — just a little bit differently than you would expect."

In the full version of this interview, Karlberg and Mwamwaya discuss political upheaval in Malawi and the making of The Very Best's new album, MTMTMK. Click the audio link on this page to hear more.

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