Every Monday through Friday, we deliver a different song as part our Song of the Day podcast subscription. This podcast features exclusive KEXP in-studio performances, unreleased songs, and recordings from independent artists that our DJs think you should hear. Each and every Friday we offer songs by local artists. Today’s selection is “Warm Heart of Africa” by The Very Best from their 2009 album Warm Heart of Africa on Green Owl Records.
Back in 2008, a London-based Malawi immigrant hooked up with a notable European production duo to create one of the most buzzed about mixtapes in recent memory. “Esau Mwamwaya and Radioclit Are The Very Best” was all over the blogosphere, building upon recent cross-cultural successes as M.I.A. and Vampire Weekend. In fact, Mwamwaya and Radioclit (aka Etienne Tron and Johan Karlberg) had earlier produced a “remix” of M.I.A.’s “Paper Planes” called “Tengazako,” which featured lyrics in Mwamwaya’s native Chichewa. Unlike with traditional remixes, Mwamwaya and Radioclit built upon songs like “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa,” “Birthday” by the Ruby Suns, or even Michael Jackson’s “Will You Be There” with original lyrics by Mwamwaya, leaving just a baseline of the sources and making “…Are The Very Best” a unique creation in its own right.
Mwamwaya and Radioclit’s underground success eventually led to the trio officially taking on the name The Very Best and releasing an album of original tunes. While the mixtape globe-hopped like mad, Warm Heart of Africa focuses on the continent of Mwamwaya’s birth, laying African styles like highlife, marabi, and kwaito onto a backdrop of Western electronic textures and beats. The result is indeed a warm blend that isn’t entirely new (I keep thinking of Peter Gabriel and Paul Simon cross-continent excursions), but is one of the most uplifting albums you’re likely to hear. On the album’s title track, today’s Song of the Day, Mwamwaya is joined by Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig for one of the most danceable tracks on the album (“Rain Dance” featuring M.I.A. also stands out). “Warm Heart of Africa” could easily have appeared on VW’s latest release, but the song is really Mwamwaya’s show as he soars above Koenig’s near-falsetto — not that it’s a competition, mind you. The two compliment each other quite well actually in their voices as well as their roles. It’s almost a cliched pairing as a self-conscious Koenig ponders whether hip-hop is hereditary and if dancers need to be told what to do, while Mwamwaya sings of himself dancing in Africa’s warm heart, Malawi, and the other gifted dancers there who set the floor ablaze. In the end, this mesh of Western/African, urban/rural, individual/community, and heart/mind is all really uncomplicated when comes down to dancing, and the music, and feeling good.
The Very Best will be performing LIVE on KEXP during our broadcast from SXSW this year. Tune in on Thursday, 3/18, at 5:30PM PST to hear Mwamwaya and Radioclit perform live. They’re also playing a few show beforehand on the East Coast, and later in May, Seattle-area listeners will be able to catch them at Sasquatch. Check their MySpace page for specific dates. For now, here’s their take on Architecture In Helsinki’s “Heart It Races,” which they call “Kamphopo”: