Time flies. It seems like, not yesterday, but definitely not four years ago, that I found myself sharing some sort of faux-Arabic pizza device with Johan Hugo and Etienne Tron of Radioclit, the three of us posted up on a Sao Paulo stoop roughly halfway between a kebab shop and the hole in the wall studio where they were recording with FADER #47 cover stars Bonde Do Role. I’m pretty sure it was on that stoop that I told them something to the effect of, “We’re talking about doing an Africa issue, definitely want to pick your brain about these kuduro beats you are messing with on the Bonde tracks.” And they were something like, “That’s crazy! We just started recording with this Malawian dude in London, you should check him out. He’s like the African Phil Collins.” That convo was the beginning of a correspondence that ultimately resulted in Esau Mwamwaya (nobody had come up with the name The Very Best yet) gracing the cover of FADER #52.
Three-plus years later, The Very Best has arrived back at a very similar-looking stoop. After a critically acclaimed debut album and tour with Vampire Weekend, The Very Best entered 2011 without a label, showing up on the musical radar with a free conceptual mixtape rather than a hit-driven, afropop sophomore LP. On the other hand, that stoop, as I remember, was pretty comfortable (a tropical breeze will definitely compensate somewhat for any discomfort due to the squareness of the concrete). Now, The Very Best are finally making the absolutely essential remix LP of their debut Warm Heart of Africa available to stateside buyers today. For a preview of the collection, check the remixes I debuted here, here and here. Or download Douster's brilliant remix of “Yalira,” below:
Download: The Very Best, "Yalira (Douster Remix)"
Even better, after a break Hugo and Esau Mwamwaya are heading back into the studio (in Malawi) and completing their much-awaited second LP. Ghetto Palms spoke to Hugo about the changes they’ve gone through and where the band is at now, sonically and geographically:
Give me a quick update on what The Very Best has been up to since parting ways with your label Green Owl. How far along is the second LP? Is there a name yet? We started to record the second The Very Best album in Sweden, exactly a year ago, in my parents’ little house in the middle of nowhere. Just me and Esau. It was was super nice. Just working, playing football, swimming in lakes, sauna etc. Both “Super Mom” and “Ndekha” from the Super Mom mixtape were done there. Then we continued to work in New York at the end of 2010. Then we took a break, after we left Green Owl, just around New Year’s. Esau hadn’t been home with his family in Malawi much for the last two years and I felt we needed to regroup and really make sure we where working on the right new album. So we released the Super Mom mixtape in this break, and now we’re about to go into the studio in Malawi in September to finish the album for a 2012 release. I think we have about half the album done at this point. Now we know where we’re going and we've got most of the stuff lined up, just ready to record.
I know the three of you linked up because you were basically neighbors in Hackney, in North London. How has the work flow changed now? Do you always work when you’re all in the same country or are you also working remotely? Is recording in Malawi different than in the UK? Last year we stripped the band down to two members, me and Esau. It just made a lot of sense, there’s no beef with Etienne. Things has definitely changed from making the Warm Heart of Africa album. This time we’re recording in certain places at certain times and its a bit more structured. But the chemistry which allowed this project to work so well in the first place is never lost when me and Esau are in the same place, no matter if its in Sweden, New York or Malawi. I’m super excited to record the last bit of the album in Malawi and maybe we'll do some in South Africa, too. The main problem with recording in Malawi is the lack of electricity. You always get a lot of power cuts. But you just deal with it.
I know you’ve spent some time in Malawi before and shot some videos there. What was that like? We tried to shoot a video for “Julia” in Malawi a couple years ago. We got this little bar and set up a little live show to film and got free beer for everyone. Most of Esau's township, Biwi, turned up and it was insane. It was our stupid mistake, giving away free beer in a township where people normally cant afford to buy one beer, and it almost got out of hand. It was just me, Esau, Mo Laudi and some local friends who were helping out. I fell off this scaffolding and landed with my ribs on a metal bar but just had to carry on. Two weeks later I had to go to the emergency room in New York cause my stomach was in so much pain and I got a hospital bill for almost $15,000! Lucky I had some kind of insurance. And we never finished the video.
You said to me about a recent track that you had found the new sound of The Very Best. How has the sound evolved? I think we have got a much more mature sound on the new album. I've improved as a producer and Esau has become an even more amazing singer. On the song I was telling you about, there’s an amazing feature artist, but we're not sure if we'll be allowed to use the voice of this person yet. We got some amazing people to work with us. We're very excited.
What's the story with MYYM? MYYM is my label that I set up earlier this year, mainly for the house music I make under the name We Don’t Belong In Pacha. Since the remix album of Warm Heart Of Africa never came out in America, we decided to put it out on MYYM as a digital release so people at least could get their hands on it if they wanted to.
What’s your favorite remix from the album to play out? The So Shifty remix of “Warm Heart of Africa” has been the peak of our live show for the last two years. It’s killer. I also love playing the Gonzales remix of "Chalo" live. I dream of putting on a concert where Gonzales plays it on a grand piano onstage. Just him and Esau. It would be so beautiful! One day we’ll make that happen.