Louis Mhlanga: Shamwari (2001)
Quick and to the Point : Beautiful, nice, enjoyable Afro-Pop jazz on deceivingly unassuming guitar chops.
One good listening of Louis Mhlanga’s guitar playing and you will unconsciously pay closer attention to his proficient technique. His clever and tasty phrasings are congenial and well adapted to their musical ecosystem, as conceived entirely by Mhlanga . The recording thrives in contemporary Africana with relatively little support. Size of the ensemble, or scope of the production notwithstanding, the support is right to the point with no waste whatsoever. Shamwari feels very sincere and features a musical ambiance that lends itself to various social contexts and radio formats. This is as good as any introduction to the work of this young African jazz veteran as any.
Chirpy and sweet is the beginning of Shamwari with Mhlanga’s guitar and his shortstop-like sound in “Hona Ka.” His resonance is agile, with a strong arm and a wide range. If he could only negotiate a deal like Alex Rodríguez’s... Dream aside, back we come to hang in “Beira.” The study of port cities, as Beira is in Mhlanga’s native Mozambique, is an imperative in historical studies. Jazz has historic port connections throughout several U.S. cities, most notably New Orleans with its international connections to Europe the Americas and the all-important port of Havana. In jazz, as well as several Latin American genres, dues are paid to port cities in their compositions and this one is a worthy addition to that ongoing history. “Afrika ya uya” is a 6/8 march with vocal support that splashes its beauty all around the guitar’s swirling flights. Bassist Denny Lalouette shows up in this tune with a brief punch of force. “What Happened To Love?” takes Mhlanga well into Latin territory and he is no stranger to such musical geography. “Distant Lover” almost suggests a Puerto Rican Aguinaldo . “Chifamba” is a mouth-wateringly percussive groove where the guitar cascades throughout. “Kugarisana Nevamwe Zvakanaka” is a somewhat laid back invitation to harmony with African vocals with equally African guitar licks heating up into percussive swings. Indeed, it is the use of percussive effects that frames the title cut of this recording and Mhlanga does offer some surprising clear lines of thought through his fingers. “Take Me” is a harmonic and melodic delight that builds up and up and up... It all ends with a thumb piano on “Dzembira” where Mhlanga, who does not keep to just one sound texture, adds a final layer to this cool album .
Track Listing: 1. Hona Ka 2. Beira 3. Afrika ya uya 4. What Happened To Love? 5. Distant Lover 6. Chifamba 7. Kugarisana Nevamwe Zvakanaka 8. Shamwari 9. Take Me 10. Dzembira
Personnel: Bass-Denny Lalouette, Herbie Tsoaeli (7, 10). Drums-Sello Montweni, Rob Watson (1, 4). Guitars & vocals-Louis Mhlanga. Percussion-Elhadgi Diop, Basie Mahlasela. Piano & keyboards-Andile Yenana. Vocals-Nomsa Magwaza (3, 6 & 7), Sipho Nkosiyani (3, 6 & 7).