You’d almost just have to hate nice things to have a problem with The Very Best. Sure, on paper, the collaboration might seem a little rangy: A Malawian singer living in London is discovered by a Franco-Swedish producer who buys a bicycle from his junk shop; musical confluence abounds. But the output of that chance meeting feels just as trouble-free and naïvely fruitful: Without a whiff of affectation, Esau Mwamwaya and producer-duo Radioclit wear their joy and influences on their Very Best sleeve to turn in one of the year’s most enjoyable records. From the opening moments of Warm Heart Of Africa, a triumphant epic-ness pervades. “Yalira” is savannah big (Lion King big), as Mwamwaya stretches his agile vocals, sung in Chichewa, over a collage of plucked strings, chopped chanting, and deeply resonant drums. The song that follows, “Chalo,” is colored by ’80s synth-pop hits, but its blithe optimism raises the track above irony and beyond cheese. Likewise for the G-funk-like slow-bounce of “Julia,” or the surging favela funk of “Kada Manja”—even the record’s most ominous sounds are sublimated by Mwamwaya’s ear for soaring melody. If Warm Heart has a weakness, it’s that as bright as these songs are, they aren’t incredibly immediate—a fact made clear by how dramatically guest stars M.I.A. and Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig effect the atmosphere around them (on “Rain Dance” and “Warm Heart Of Africa,” respectively). But though Radioclit seems to draw production ideas from the already existent ether—largely the African-Western pop alliances of the ’80s—that does nothing to take away from this fascinating and happy moment captured on record.
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