By Jason Grishkoff | November 3rd, 2009
The Very Best is a collaboration between Malawian vocalist Esau Mwamwaya and London producers Radioclit, and in my very honest opinion, they aren’t worth the attention they’re getting. Last night The Very Best sold out Washington, D.C.’s DC9 Club, in part due to a whole lot of hype from websites such as Pitchfork, as well as a few shining reviews in DC’s local newspapers. While they undoubtedly perform with an original stage presence that gets the crowd dancing (I enjoyed myself thoroughly), the quality of music was simply sub-par.
I had tried listening to The Very Best when they dropped their album, Heart of Africa, but quickly decided it wasn’t for me. When a friend of mine who works with AV Club DC offered up a free ticket, I thought, “Hell, this could be fun!” I didn’t quite remember the music, but rather its essence–how could African music with a serious beat be bad live? And to be honest, I wasn’t wrong–this music is easy to get down to. Only problem is that it probably hurt many ears that appreciate good music. Perhaps my growing up in South Africa makes me biased on this one, but I’m pretty sure I’ve heard African music done well (whether it be from the North or the South), and this isn’t done well.
- Step one to having enjoyable music: sing in tune. Blew that one, didn’t ya?
- Step two to having enjoyable music: turn the vocals down, especially if they’re bad.
- Step three to having enjoyable music: don’t tease the audience with an encore, stay on stage, engage with them, and then not do a goddamn encore. I’ll totally admit to enjoying the dancing of the crowd, and none of us would have minded that continuing.
Here’s where The Very Best wins: originality. That’s all they’ve got going for them right now, and for a couple exceptions (the two African dancers who spent the entire show getting absolutely down), they’re just not executing it well.
Here’s a perfect example of baseless praise:
The Radioclit lads have tightened the bolts on traditionally sprawling African tribal music whilst still retaining the innate effervescence of the whole sound, and Mwamwaya’s vocals are so smooth and so assured as to make it irrelevant that I can’t fully understand Chichewa – 1 Song a Day
“Smooth” and “assured”?! The only thing smooth and assured is his stage presence and ability to get the crowd to boogie. You could pull an African off the streets of a South African township and they’d be able to sing better.
Criticism (and the irony of their name) aside, they put on a great live show, and I’m certain that this group is going to keep picking up steam as hipsters the world over flip out about how “cultured” they are. I’ll end with this quote:
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 – AV Club
Looks like I hate nice things! )-: