A near faultless album and a creative statement of pan-African vision
Now based in South Africa, where his band are from, Zimbabwean guitarist Louis Mhlanga has reached out to musicians across the continent offering them his deep knowledge of Shona music and an openness to different traditions.
Kicking off the album in fine style is Louis and the West African Latin all stars themselves, Orchestra Baobab. ‘Rhumba All the Way’ sets the upbeat tone with breezy sax, a funky beat and thrilling guitar picking that seems to flick, pick and jump from Southern Africa through the Congo and up to Senegal.
Fellow axe man Ernest Ranglin trades licks with Louis on ‘Spreading Some Love’. At times, we get dangerously close to smooth jazz but, fortunately, we never quite get there. A more successful collaboration comes when Malian guitarist Habib Koite slows it right down with the ethereally beautiful ‘Kambo Kemaziso’.
Closer to home is the brassy and addictive ‘Zuva’. This time, it’s strictly southern with his country mate Oliver Mtukudzi and South African singer Busi Mhlongo getting in on the action. Busi has a voice that’s equal parts smoke to honey and the combination of her voice and the fellas sets the track off wonderfully.
He shifts to the centre of Africa for inspiration on the soukoused up ‘International Rhumba’. This is Louis at this best, working a groove until it mesmorises and then pushing it along a bit more for luck. The hooks, the vocals and the guitar all come together best though for the stand out track, ‘Mari Hakuna’ – a guaranteed floor filller.
A varied and rewarding album that has a few smooth corners.
Louis Mhlanga – World Traveller is released on July 3 on Sheer Sound (SSCD 117)
Rhumba All the Way; Afrika Ya Uya; Shungu Iwe; Spreading Some Love; Hona Ka; Serina; Distant Lover; Gumbo Muchochocho; Kamba Kemaziso; International Rhumba; Mari Hakuna; Zuva; Chifamba; Rudo; Take Me; What the Future Holds.
Louis Mhlanga: guitar, vocals; Jimi Indi: bass; Sam Mataure: drums; Basi Mahlasela: percussion; Orchestra Baobab: guests; Denny Lalouette: bass; Sello Montwedi: drums; Elhadji Diop: percussion; Andile Yenana: keyboards; Nomsa Magwaza: vocals; Sipho Nkosiyani: vocals; Ernest Ranglin: guitar; Michael Phillipgs: bass; Sam Mataure: drums; Randal Skippers: keyboards; Rob Watson: drums; Oliver Mtukudzi: vocals; Stella Humalo: vocals; Faith Kekana: vocals; Bushy Seatlholo: synth; Herbie Tsoaeli: bass; Candy Mokwena: vocals; Nurse Matala: vocals; Habib Koite: guitar; Eric van der Westen: bass; Jeroen Van Vliet: keyboards; Busi Mhlongo: vocals; Chiwoniso: vocals; Marcus Wyatt: trumpet; Basi Mahlasela: percussion; Sydney Mnisi: tenor sax.