Mozambican traditional sounds meet the modern world in this vibrant and wonderfully ambitious debut album
Usually, the albums I pick as albums of the week are ones that I find myself compulsively relistening to over and over again. Vusi Mahlasela, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Tash Sultana, and Charly García have all made it onto my playlists where I will dip into their work when the mood arises. However, not every album of the week is an album that draws be back to relisten. Some are just wonderful and beautiful albums that don’t necessarily keep me coming back for more. Eparaka by Deltino Guerreiro is one that fits into the latter category, though there are certainly songs on this album that are exceedingly catchy and listenable. Hailing from the Southern African state of Mozambique, the music of Guerreiro has a distinctly modern sound. Like much of Mozambican music it has a Portuguese flavour to it. One of the most popular Mozambican genres, marrabenta, was born out of a fusion between the Portuguese fado of the colonialists and the indigenous African rhythms. Though I don’t know for sure, Eparaka certainly appears to be based in this tradition, but it is mixed in with funk, soul, and pop to produce a fascinating and vibrant sound that pays tribute to his heritage and also looks to the future by combining all these other genres. In an interview with Cleverish Magazine, he also notes there is an Arabic influence to his music due to his years growing up on northern Mozambique where there was a strong Arabian presence, the remnants of which are found in the folk traditions of the area. What makes this album a cut above the average for me is just how skilfully these influences are woven together into a tapestry of diverse sounds all working together as a whole piece.
“There are intellectual concepts that support it, and lyrics that speak to important themes, but Guerreiro knows that an album of the style he wants to make needs to be fun first and foremost, and he has succeeded.”
The opening song, 3 Estações is a nice example of this, with the opening sounding like marrabenta, but the acoustic guitar that follows it is more akin to fado, and the song ends on a gloriously funky guitar solo which sounds like something Nile Rodgers may have written. The following song, Sonho, was the song with which he achieved his first taste of success, and appropriately it has the most commercial pop sound to be found on the album, with a folky guitar opening hook. However, that soon yields into a jazzy middle section with an almost samba beat, and Guerreiro’s soulful vocals are full of emotion. Flitting between Portuguese and English, the lyrics are about the daily rat race and how it is everyone’s ambition to have enough money to be rich and live well, yet the minimum wages and standards of living can never allow for that. Though Guerreiro is singing about Mozambique here, it is applicable to many nations across the world, and perhaps part of its wider appeal. Having studied to be an economist, it is unsurprising that he might choose to sing about standards of living, and social themes are at the heart of the album, most notable in the song Faith, which speaks of his desire to see a better world in which war, poverty and HIV will be eradicated. It is an earnest plea for a better future for Africa that may be somewhat simplistic, but it is no doubt coming from genuine feeling, and it is also a very engaging song that puts Guerreiro's soulful voice to good use.
Duas Caras is an extremely catchy dance number that has the feel of a club hit, and the stringed instrument employed at the end is reminiscent of oud music, highlighting the Arab influence on Mozambican music. It is also worth pointing out that Guerreiro sings in three languages on the album – Portuguese, English, and Makhuwa, the latter of which is a native language of the northern part of Mozambique. Singing in English is often understandably employed by artists wishing to gain popularity across the world, and I can imagine that is Guerreiro’s intention here as well, but also singing in Portuguese and Makhuwa speaks to his desire to stay true to his roots and his upbringing, as well as to reach an audience in Mozambique and across the Lusophone world.
The album is certainly an interesting one, but more than that, it is a fun one. There are intellectual concepts that support it, and lyrics that speak to important themes, but Guerreiro knows that an album of the style he wants to make needs to be fun first and foremost, and he has succeeded. It also has a nice ebb and flow, a rhythm of the songs which flows from upbeat to slow, dance tracks to ballads, all with a characteristic mix of styles all coherently combined together in such a way that it does not sound messy or too chaotic, but rather it flits from one to the other with verve and panache. It is a debut album, and it does display the raw energy and creative force that many debut albums have without many of their usual flaws. Guerreiro has managed to create a musical signature that takes from a wide range of sources without it sounding like he has tried something too ambitious or too derivative. And that, I think, shows real talent.