In what has been an astonishing year for African compilations, this collection of mid-’70s singles from Zimbabwe’s ground-breaking electric mbira group must rank as one of the most vital. Thomas Mapfumo was a member of the original incarnation of a band formed by trumpeter Daram Karanga on behalf of the Mangura copper mine company in order to entertain the workers. Mapfumo left in a dispute over wages having recorded just one session with the band, but not before leaving his mark with the provenance of their name (he and other another band member worked at a local chicken coop, which prompted the mine boss to inexplicably shout “Hallelujah!”) as well as the light, catchy “Zimpop” sound the band produced - the crisp interchange between mbira-mimicking electric guitars that pre-dated Mapfumo’s chimurenga style, the driving rhythms and that distinctive, soulful Mapfumo vocal style. But his involvement only accounts for four of the 18 tracks here, and although the band only managed to last another four years, there’s no sign of an artistic decline in their output. Mwana Wamai Dada Naye - released towards the end of their existence in 1979 — is wonderful evidence of that, presaging the infectious, guitar-driven pop of the Soul Brothers and Bhundu Boys with irresistible interweaving electric guitar, funky brass and some fine vocals by Lovemore Nyamasviva. There’s much more in that vein, but elements of traditional Shona styles as well (on Murembo and Mukadzi Wangu Ndomuda) and a finely-tuned awareness of the appeal of the hybrid pop/soul/jazz horn arrangements evident in South African kwela music at the time. With contemporary subject matter that sadly still rings true - concerns about education, the price of commodities and struggle for liberation sit with familiar day-to-day concerns about love and family matters — and a light, dance-friendly feel throughout, Analog Africa have come up with the perfect companion to the Green Arrows’ 4 Track Recording Session collection from earlier in the year.
This review first appeared on www.flyglobalmusic.com