New Internationalist

Mixed Media: Music reviews

March 2017
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La Mambanegra – a break salsa band that will burn the house down.

El Callegüeso y su Mala Maña

by La Mambanegra (Movimientos Records, MOV 012, CD, LP and digital)

There’s energy enough in La Mambanegra’s expanded salsa to power a national grid. The Colombian orchestra may take pointers from vintage Nuyorican salsa and a measure of James Brown-inspired soul funk brass, but the exhilaratingly fierce style of El Callegüeso y su Mala Maña is very much its own thing.

Led by Jacobo Velez, this album establishes a fast tempo from the very start. ‘Puro Potenkem’ is a stripped-down rhythm – the hard edges owe something to hiphop production values – with Velez corralling the mighty muscle of his nine-strong orchestra with a call-and-response dynamic that sizzles. The brass and rim-shot percussive power are constants throughout El Callegüeso, with the rhythm lines becoming more densely woven as it progresses.

This is all to the good, for La Mambanegra is very much involved in carving new territory out of the intersections of what has previously existed. This is evident on ‘Kool and the Mamba’ – and its big blasts of funky, semi-rap style vocal that nods towards Jamaican dancehall – or the disco-saturated ‘Me Parece Perfecto’ (‘She looks perfect to me’).

La Mambanegra speak of their style as ‘break salsa’, which gives an indication of what they have been listening to. It indicates, too, how music, especially club-orientated live music, constantly adapts to new situations. There’s a joyousness in La Mambanegra’s gymnastic polyrhythms; this is clearly a band that will burn the house down.

★★★★ LG


Deep respect from Zimbabwe’s Mokoomba.

by Mokoomba (Outhere Records, OH 030, CD, LP and digital)

There is plenty to celebrate in Luyando, the second album from Zimbabwe’s six-piece Mokoomba – and much of it comes down to resilient songs of community and strength, rendered in Tonga, Shona, Luvale and Ndebele.

This proliferation of languages is a key to Luyando – the Tonga word for ‘mother’s love’. It’s an album that looks to all the African countries fed by the Zambezi River on which the band’s hometown, Victoria Falls, sits so spectacularly. No coincidence, then, that the lovely, tripping song ‘Mokole’ is a hymn to all things aqueous: it means water in Ndebele.

The band have shed the afro-jazziness that characterized their first album, to go for a lightly styled approach favouring strong vocals. Unusually, all six men sing and the pattering of many types of percussion outweighs the presence of keyboards and guitars.

The themes are rooted in the experience of the Tonga and Luvale people, from rites of passage to advice for aspiring young hunters out in the field. They let loose on laments, ranging from the catastrophic construction of the Kariba dam, to songs of homesickness. But whatever the subject matter, there is a graceful progress throughout the album. The band’s name ‘mokoomba’ translates, rather beautifully, as ‘deep respect for the river’. It’s a metaphor that sums up the flow of lilting music and benign tradition in which this album revels.

★★★ LG

Front cover of New Internationalist magazine, issue 500 This column was published in the March 2017 issue of New Internationalist. To read more, buy this issue or subscribe.

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This article was originally published in issue 500

New Internationalist Magazine issue 500
Issue 500

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