Lessons in World Music with The Very Best

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Esau Mwamwaya and Radioclit’s Johan Karlberg and Etienne Tron come together as a bold superlative, The Very Best. Bold as it may be, the label fits gently, and with maybe a hint of jest. These guys are very good, but the “Very Best” isn’t exactly what they are going for. A name like the Very Best begs contention, but there are not fighting songs here.

The Very Best got off to a serendipitous start. Mwamwaya, a Malawi-born singer, ran a secondhand store in London. Karlberg and Tron, of London ghetto-pop DJ duo Radioclit, stopped in for a bicycle one afternoon, and by the next morning, the three had recorded their very first song. That was three years ago, and in the time since, they have released a highly-praised mixtape (which featured everyone from Bun B and Gorilla Zoe to Vampire Weekend and Architecture in Helsinki), played show worldwide, and as of today, put out a formal full length, Warm Heart of Africa. All the while, their jubilant spirit shines, and when I met with them, they were all grins. After all, “It feels like I just met you guys yesterday,” says Mwamwaya.

Karlberg points out that “half of the mixtape was recorded parallel to the album,” and so it’s unsurprising that guests Ezra Koenig and M.I.A. were carried over from the mixtape, along with variants of “Kamphopo” and “Kada Maja.” It’s most, continuous, however, in it’s infectious nature. Leaning away from the recognizable and timely samples of the mixtape, the album makes room for Mwamwaya, a much deserving star.

Picking freely from a wide world of music, and finding homes for Michael Jackson and kwaito alike, the Very Best’s sound demonstrates an aptitude for curation. Asked who they would like to work with in the future, Karlberg and Mwamwaya pointed to Phil Collins, Paul Simon and Seal, before interestingly turning to Akon. While Akon could hail an audience much broader than the sweater-clad Koenig followers, Karlberg was thinking less in terms of strategy with the mix than a fresh sound: “It would be a cool thing, right, because I never felt like he really embraced his African roots,” he said, “even though he’s proud and talks about being Senegalese and his African heritage, musically, I think we can expect a little bit more with all that.”

And this is much of what the Very Best are about: their music is worldly, but they aren’t in the game to serve up a lesson in geography or culture — just good music. For the Very Best, heritage and music exceeds any title, leaving any and all global teachings to be guided by a pop-spirit. This in mind, Karlberg was insistent that they not play gatekeepers to world music. “I think when it comes to languages, I kind of feel like it’s the way people respond to the album and the mixtape just shows that people are now starting to accept other people,” said Mwamwaya, “And for me, especially, I feel like music is not about the words, it’s the feeling.” They might not teach, but they will help us understand.

“In the beginning, it was just having some kind of fun,” Mwamwaya beamed. And while their name might welcome superlatives, it’s an immeasurable fun that dominates. “Really, everything I’ve done with Radioclit and music in my life, this is the most fun and easy,” seconded Karlberg, before offering a glimpse into their future: “I’d be gutted if we couldn’t do this anymore.”

Download “Yalira” and “Rain Dance (Featuring MIA)” on RCRDLBL now.

Upcoming shows: 10/21: CMJ Showcase @ Le Poisson Rouge, New York City 10/23: 103 Harriet, San Francisco 10/24: Echoplex W/ Kid Sister, L.A. 10/29: Bottom Lounge, Chicago