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Extra Golden: Hera Ma Nono

Jeff Dayton-Johnson By

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Extra Golden
Hera Ma Nono
Thrill Jockey

The FM-rock supergroup Foreigner chose its name to reflect the mixed nationality of its members, assorted Brits and Yanks. Wherever they were, they said, someone in the band was a foreigner. Presumably the anomie engendered by this situation lent emotional poignancy to tunes like "Long Long Way From Home," and, uh, "I Wanna Know What Love Is." Foreigner's experience demonstrates that back in the day, to form a global band, some of the musicians just had to move.

Enthusiasts of globalization, perhaps, can point to Kenyan-American collective Extra Golden as an example of a new, post-Foreigner model of bi-national music making: the band really lives on two continents, in two countries.

Globalization hasn't entirely solved all the problems that Foreigner faced. Crossing borders is still tough for plenty of folks. In order to record their second disc, Hera Ma Nono, in the United States, Extra Golden had to call upon presidential hopeful Barack Obama to accelerate the stalled process of issuing visas for guitarist Opiyo Bilongo and drummer Onyango Wuod Omari. Appropriately, Extra Golden dedicates an earnest song of gratitude here to the renowned Kenyan-American senator, with the good manners to throw in thanks to his wife and his mother as well. The fierce coda, meanwhile, to "Obama" might have the power to change voting behavior.

Those magnificent codas are a defining characteristic of Extra Golden's take on the mesmeric benga popular music of the Luo-speaking region of Kenya. The codas take up half the playing length of some tracks; they might be more rapid and intense than the main body of the song ("Obama," "Love Hijackers"), or slower and more pensive ("Jackolando"). They feature guitar polyphony of aching beauty, making sense of the quizzical metaphor Chuck Berry used to describe Johnny B. Goode, who "could play the guitar just like a ringing a bell". The codas and the swirling guitar are two of the elements carried over from the band's excellent début, Ok-oyot System (Thrill Jockey, 2006). The most important such element, of course, is the energetic miscegenation of Kenyan benga and American indie rock, a process of fusion that sounds even better on this record than the first (case in point: the back-and-forth between English and Luo vocals on "Love Hijackers").

Extra Golden had to surmount an even greater challenge than visas to make this record; one critical feature of their earlier album absent from Hera Ma Nono is the contribution of guitarist and singer Otieno Jagwasi, whose life was snuffed out at the young age of 34 after recording the first record. Extra Golden recruited guitarist Bilongo, whose sound—vocally and on guitar—is sunnier than his baleful predecessor's preoccupied tone (like, say, Peter Tosh or Eric Dolphy). Elsewhere, Jagwasi's brother Onyango sings a filial tribute ("Jakolando").

In spite of the long shadow cast by Otieno's death, Hera Ma Nono is paradoxically a joyful record, built on a sophisticated groove; and it is with joy that the listener succumbs to that groove.

Tracks: Jakolando; Obama; I Miss You; Night Runners; Street Parade; Brothers Gone Away; Love Hijackers; Hera Ma Nono.

Personnel: Alex Minoff: guitars, bass, vocals, percussion; Opiyo Bilongo: guitars, lead vocal; Ian Eagleson: bass, guitars, vocals, percussion; Onyango Wuod Omari: drums; Dennis Rathnaw: percussion; Onyango Jagwasi: lead vocal (1); David Egan: piano (1,5).


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