Culturally speaking, London is one of the most diverse cities there is; a melting pot of hundreds of beliefs, religions, fashions, tastes and all the things that make us all different. As we are all unfortunately aware however, race is often used to define and separate in the most evil of ways, making it all the more special when a band bring together a group of people from entirely different backgrounds to create music that transcends such borders and boundaries.
Enter The Very Best, an act birthed by a bicycle sale between a Malawian second hand furniture shop owner and singer and French producer and a Swedish DJ duo, Radioclit, in East London’s Clapton. An unlikely mix, but it’s one that has successfully spawned a solid early mix tape, debut album Warm Heart of Africa, 2012’s MTMTMK (that brilliantly stands for 'More To Malawi Than Madonna’s Kid') and Makes a King, released earlier this year via Moshi Moshi. They’ve collaborated with Vampire Weekend, Santigold and Bruno Mars, and are undoubtedly one of the best-kept dancehall secrets of the last five years.
Previous live performances the band have attempted in London have been marred by passport issues, resulting in lead singer and soul of the band Esau Mwamwaya being only present via a pre-filmed projection. But with immigration held at bay this time around, their highly anticipated, sold out show at Hackney’s Oslo (5th August) saw them not only going full steam ahead, but was also a homecoming show on the edge of where it all started.
Musically The Very Best are all party; an all-singing, all-dance inducing mix of African hip hop and traditional Malawian vocals in several native languages given a western slant via the French-Swedish electronic production duo of Etienne Tron and Johan Karlberg. Live, they enlist the help of fresh-faced Seye, a guitarist of Nigerian heritage, who also happens to be the younger brother of Metronomy’s Olugbenga (who recieved a shout out) and a whole host of special guests including Senegalese singer Baaba Maal and Yadi, who shares Algerian and Italian heritage.
An undeniable celebration of global collaboration, from the opener "Yoshua Alikuti" the crowd were dancing in a way no other type of music can induce, whilst Esau proudly jumped and swaggered around the small stage like he was in his element - a reaction quite understandable considering the sweat, joy and unreserved exuberance thrown at him from the pit of sweaty limbs.
A rendition of "Warm Heart of Africa" was a particular highlight, with its traditional melody and jumble of drums, provoking even the most conservative gig goer into loosing their feet to the music. The heat of the room was made bearable when treated to a new song “Unbreakable" featuring Yadi and Baaba Maal, that the band confessed to have never playing live together before. Yadi’s vocals perfectly rounded off the harmonies, as Baaba Maal’s traditional treatment channeled the African spirit.
By the time the set ended with call and response "We Okay", the name of which was also tattooed on young Seye’s arm, no one was left any doubt that The Very Best are deserving of their name.
Compliment Your Soul
Makes a King
Unbreakable with Yadi & Baaba Maal
Umasiye w Baaba Maal