As we lamented in our sprawling end of year list the abundance of great music released in 2021 made it difficult to keep up. We aim to rectify that with this new summer series where we cover the music that we are ashamed to admit we never quite managed to highlight, yet have found ourselves returning to again and again.
German jazzy afrobeat aficionados Muito Kaballa Power Ensemble released Mamari in late May, and it was an album I found myself repeatedly returning to. It’s a beautiful work that moves well beyond Fela’s template incorporating jazzier elements and (gasp) female vocals. Many of the tunes including the title track are relaxed Afrobeat workouts that seem to owe as much to late night chilled jazz sessions. With flugelhorn, grand piano, baritone and tenor sax and a lot of hand percussion this is an album with its foot in many camps. The reason I kept going back was their epic Money.Equal.Trouble. It’s the kind of music you reach for to play loud, infectious with a long instrumental workout before the inevitable lament about the evils of the almighty dollar.
In September they returned with a remix album featuring a bunch of remixers I’d never heard of. So I was pretty suspicious – which is pretty hypocritical when I hadn’t heard of Muito Kaballa prior to May. But there’s something about remixing afrobeat that kind’ve never seems to work, possibly due to the desire to remove the rough edges and straightjacket everything into 4/4. So I went straight to my favourite track Money.Equal.Trouble, with a remix by Lua Preta who are an Angolan Polish DJ and vocalist combination. And they’ve tightened it up as a dance floor banger, really structuring the vocals without losing the power of the hand percussion. Elsewhere the remix of the title track by Portuguese artist Nuno Beats has the kind of wobbly space that reminds of a Burnt Friedman joint. The remixers are from Portugal, Uganda, Poland, Angola, Cabo Verde, Germany, Ghana, Colombia, Brazil, US, Spain, Netherlands, Ecuador, Belgium, Democratic Republic of Congo, Nigeria, UK, France, Uruguay and Algeria. And the diverse approaches reflect this. With this kind of diversity not everything works (at least to my ears), but each track has been moved dramatically from where it started. The album closes with a mix of the title track by Brussels DJ and tropical fusion artist Rafael Aragon and it couldn’t be more different from the Nuno Beats mix or the original – which is surely the mark of a good remix album.