Taking afro-soul to a new level, Mussa's idiosyncratic style and innovative form allows this album to surprise as well as entertain
Known as Malawi’s one-man electronic band, Faith Mussa’s style of mixing traditional African rhythms and beats with modern sounds instantly marks him out from the crowd. His idiosyncratic style takes influences from other afro-pop musicians and of course from the musical heritage of his native Malawi, but the finished product is rather unique, and a joyous listening experience. Coming from a family of musicians, Mussa cut his teeth in his family band, who travelled around Malawi playing music. Soon after, he began making his own guitars, and eventually became renowned as a solo performer who uses electronic methods to sound as if there is an entire band on stage. Though it’s just Mussa on stage, he manages to make it an entertaining spectacle, and I would recommend you check out some of his solo performances on Youtube.
“This album is constantly taking unexpected turns that delight, entertain, and innovate...”
Kalilima is Mussa’s second album, and stereotypically second albums are always harder to make. Whether that’s the truth for this album or not, it certainly doesn’t seem like it was. The music seems effortless, and for me, it’s the whirlwind creativity and inventiveness, the desire to create music on his own that terms that impresses me the most, and yet this does not seem like an obvious ‘mission statement’ album by any means. This album is constantly taking unexpected turns that delight, entertain, and innovate, and while music making is hardly ever a truly solo endeavour (and neither was this album, as we shall come to see), it certainly seems to me that the overriding style is that of Mussa and Mussa alone.
However, Mussa shows himself to be capable of collaboration, and he even excels at it. Werenga features Malawi’s other famous musical export, the Madalitso Band, and the song is maybe my favourite on an album full of strong songs. Having Madalitso’s Yobu Maligwa on the babatoni, a giant, one-stringed Malawian take on a guitar adds a vibrancy to the proceedings which melds perfectly with the pop beat. In addition, Kwanu Nkwanu brings a fast-paced shangaan electro vibe to the album, taking inspiration from South African music, and while it is perhaps, on the face of it, the most removed from the afro-pop fusion that defines the rest of the album, shangaan electro is itself a fusion genre, taking the music of the Tsonga people and merging it with the fluid synthetic drumbeats and guitar lines of electro music. As such, the album has a playfulness when it comes to genre, and also when it comes to the form of the album. Werenga and the acoustic pop and 80s synth inspired number N’Goma are separated by Gass Chat, an extract of an overlapping conversation between Mussa and his producers and assistants, which acts as a palate cleanser between the two halves of the album.
The album’s overall feel is that of an album that respects the past, but at the same time is aiming to create something new and fresh. Songs like Ndi Konkuno link back to genres like soukous or afrobeat, and a song like Pamudzi Pano has a guitar part that wouldn’t be out of place on a classic rock album, and yet in each of these songs there is always an element of the popular music of the moment, as well as a heavy dose of the traditional music of Africa. This three-pronged approach allows Mussa to subtly change the levels of each part and create enough variation throughout for it to be vital and exciting, while also being a contiguous piece of music that has an artistic through-line, as well as being one that is thoroughly entertaining, full of tracks that are memorable, catchy, and danceable. And all that in just 35 minutes. Not bad going.