Monoswezi – The Village (2013)
What do you get when you cross musicians from Mozambique, Norway, Sweden and Zimbabwe?
Well, you get Monoswezi, of course!
In its head, Monoswezi is a Scandinavian Jazz band with saxophone, drums and bass, courtesy of the northern hemisphere contingent; but in its heart, Monoswezi is an Eastern Africa traditional folk/dance band.
Voice and mbira are courtesy of the outstanding Hope Masike, whose delivery is at times sweet and soulful, such as on Heya!, and at times, such on the fantastic Ndinewe, displaying her fantastic vocal range, which along with the bass drive this track to a great saxophone finish.
The mbira is a wooden box with different sized metal keys attached, which are plucked to produce notes. It is the national instrument of Zimbabwe and is used in traditional Shona music. On The Village, the mbira is used to create a rhythmic basis for the tracks, a short melody is repeated throughout the entire song laying the foundation for the rest.
While many tracks are uplifting and oftentimes playful, some are more sombre, like Kalahari, which is open and sparse like the titular desert, or the mournful Mapfunde. On Xtimela, Masike is joined by Mozambiquian Calu Tsemane in a beautiful interplay between the two vocalists, with carefully constructed saxophone melody. The album finishes with two predominantly rhythmic pieces, the playful Matue Tue with a simple saxophone melody and the haunting Metal Drum with an ominous buildup like a gathering storm.
The mix of Eastern African rhythms and vocals with European Jazz is sublime. Neither element is fighting for prominence; there is perfect harmony here. The band’s name means “one world” and, if this music is their vision of a global community, it is beautiful. To call Monoswezi a fusion band would imply that these two musical traditions were two separate entities coming together; while that may be the literal truth, it sounds like a pairing that should never have been apart in the first place, so perfect is the melding.
Favourite tracks: Ndinewe, Xtimela, Kalahari
Spotify link: Monoswezi – The Village