Do you roll your eyes and cringe every time someone says, “Vampire Weekend is so cool because of their African influences?” If so, The Very Best is for you. The group recently released a brilliant mixtape (which you can download from their myspace for free) filled to the brim with gorgeous pop and electro remixes. Esau Mwamwaya and Radioclit are the two unlikely entities that make up The Very Best. Radioclit is two well-known British DJ’s, and Mwamwaya is from London via Malawi. Though details of the story are a little sketchy, they met in London as one member of Radioclit bought a bicycle form Mwamwaya’s junk shop. Mwamwaya had been making music in his native Malawi, and Radioclit saw an opportunity for an excellent collaboration.
Indie music these days flirts with world influences more than ever before. As artists branch out to find ever more creative music, they reach their fingers around the globe to add different sounds to their songs. Everyone from Beirut, Fleet Foxes, and most annoyingly, Vampire Weekend has either laid claim to or been described as making music in this way. Of course, indie musicians stealing music from other cultures is nothing new, but something about the way critics have recently lauded the creeping “world-music” influences has a feeling of discomfort about it. While it’s great that a group like Tinariwen can rise to prominence, it’s unsettling to hear Ezra Koening talk about globalization and his music in a Spin Magazine interview. Please.
That’s why The Very Best are so important this year. Unlike Tinariwen, they are not an international group that’s gotten the indie attention they deserve. And they are certainly not an American indie group claiming to have international influences. They are a multi-cultural hybrid, a true form of what so many critics are quick to applaud when it’s not actually there. Even though Mwamwaya is from Malawi and sings in Chichewa on many tracks, he lives in London. Radioclit are established British party djs. Rather than reach across cultures grabbing at new ways to make music, they are from different cultures creating a very new and exciting sound.
We crave this kind of music. And the really important thing about this mixtape is that it’s triumphant. It’s fun and celebratory. It’s great to listen to, and makes you feel good. It takes our ears somewhere we haven’t been – Malawi via London. Not the ambiguously offensive continent of “Africa,” but an actual country. Not only does this satisfy our liberal global consciences, but it also expands our musical tastes. This is illustrated perfectly with their remake of “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa” (an extremely intentional and pointed Vampire Weekend song choice, I believe). The Very Best do a great job with this track, bringing out the vaguely “African” guitar sounds from the original and making them the joyous focal piece of the song. This all works because Mwamwaya and Radioclit are not only authentic (whatever that means), they’re genuine. That’s another quality that so many artists seem to lack these days.
The Very Best is an act that could critically stand alone based only on either their multicultural authenticity or their genuine joy in making music. The combination of the two, however, make this group truly outstanding. Listen to the mixtape, and keep your eye out for more. You won’t regret it, in any sense.