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THE VERY BEST – European production duo Radioclit and Malawian singer Esau Mwamwaya – embodies a without-borders approach to music-making that could only happen in the 21st century.
The band came together when Mwamwaya first met Radioclit’s Etienne Tron in 2007 while haggling over a bicycle in the London second-hand furniture shop he ran near the duo’s studio. Following the exchange, Mwamwaya was invited to Tron’s housewarming party, where he met the other half of Radioclit, Johan Karlberg. Esau was asked to come to Radioclit’s studio after he told Karlberg he was a drummer. It turned out Esau was a singer too, and they decided to collaborate, combining Radioclit’s vast production experience and self-described “ghettopop” style – having produced and remixed tracks for the likes of M.I.A., Lily Allen, Justin Timberlake, Santigold, Britney Spears, TV On The Radio, David Banner, and Buraka Som Sistema, among others – with Mwamwaya’s emotive vocal approach. Karlberg dubbed Mwamwaya “the African Phil Collins,” and they have been recording songs together ever since.
The Very Best’s debut full-length, Warm Heart of Africa (released December 2009 in the wake of The Very Best’s first U.S. tour), follows the surprising global success of Esau Mwamwaya & Radioclit Are The Very Best, a free mixtape made available online late last year. Without promotional assistance or financial support, the collection of well-known pop, dance, afro, and indie tracks remixed by Radioclit and featuring Mwamwaya’s singing in Chichewa, Swahili, Portuguese, and English charted more than 200,000 downloads and was hailed by tastemakers including Pitchfork, FADER, and Gorilla vs. Bear, among many others.
In a “Best New Music” track review of the first single “Warm Heart of Africa,” which features Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig, Pitchfork describes Mwamwaya as “one of the most effortlessly lovable voices around.” Rolling Stone jokes – in its four-star review of the song, which contains an ELO reference in one lyric – “Somewhere Jeff Lynne is confused but happy.” LA Weekly calls the band “one of the best antidotes for L.A. traffic frustration.” San Francisco Bay Guardian warns, “Brace yourself for hazardous dance floor anthems well-fed on the homegrown African sounds of high-life and marabi, as well as bass-laden pop grooves from, well, all over the globe.” And, following the band’s New York City concert, GQ.com says, “We’re curious to see if the folks who swoon for Vampire Weekend’s Graceland-y rock and M.I.A.’s revolution party beats will be ready to follow the music to its logical next step. We are.”
While The Very Best mixtape caught fire with Mwamwaya singing over remixes of Michael Jackson (Free Willy theme), Vampire Weekend (“Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa”), Hans Zimmer (True Romance theme), and M.I.A. (“Paper Planes”), the full-length consists of original songs. For the recording, the band brings some guests on board: in addition to Vampire Weekend’s Koenig joining for “Warm Heart Of Africa,” M.I.A. is featured on “Rain Dance.”
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