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by World Music Network August 03, 2017


Monoswezi: A Je

African-Nordic jazz alchemists Monoswezi explore new sonic worlds: listen out for Indian harmonium, Malian ngoni and African-American banjo atop minimalist global groove.

‘Cool sonic explorations from a Scandinavian-African fusion band who specialise in unexpected instrumentation.’ The Guardian

‘a remarkable balance between two different cultures’  Songlines UK

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African-Nordic jazz alchemists Monoswezi explore new sonic worlds in their third Riverboat Records album. A Je features the compositions of bandleader Hallvard Godal with a fresh hosting of new musical collaborators. Expanding their sound even further afield, Monoswezi’s minimalist global groove is chic as ever and well ahead of the curve. Inspired to introduce chord textures to Monoswezi’s vernacular, the band flexes their line-up to include Indian harmonium, Malian ngoni and African-American banjo.

The name Monoswezi is an amalgam of the four founding member’s nationalities represented in their line-up – Mozambique (Mo), Norway (No), Sweden (Swe), Zimbabwe (Zi) – and the influence from each culture is audible.

African music remains central to Monoswezi’s inspiration. Their compositional approach draws on Hope Masike’s Zimbabwean and Calu Tsemane’s Mozambican musical heritage alongside the rest of the band’s Nordic jazz tilt. In conversation Hallvard remarks on his earliest encounters with the music of Mozambique: ‘the music felt like a wheel, spinning, without beginning or end’. Opening track ‘Loko U Muka’ really catches this sentiment with rippling cyclical mbira and banjo lines atop interlocking bass line and Calu’s vocal.

The West African musical powerhouse that is Mali makes it’s way in via Sidiki Camara. Monoswezi first played with Sidiki at the London Jazz Festival in 2013. On this album he contributes calabash percussion and plays an 8-string lute called an ngoni on tracks ‘Dzimani’ and ‘Esta Bem’.

All of the tracks here feature Norwegian jazz improviser Kim Jo hannesen’s banjo and were written with the instrument’s idiosyncratic sound and flailing playing style in mind. The banjo’s crystalline cut and dry sound alongside the ngoni’s more dampened deep plucked punctuations contrast well. Though different the two instruments are historically linked: the ngoni, alongside other West African lutes, was transported to America and the Caribbean during the dreaded slave trade, manifesting in Creole culture and influencing the emergence of the modern five-string banjo.

Parallel to their African explorations, Monoswezi draw on Pakistani qawaali tradition on this album. Hallvard’s interest in the music of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan manifests in his use of Indian harmonium which reverberates smoothly amid the texture.

Monoswezi’s strength lies in their endless curiosity for new sounds. Salve to the ears of those tired of cosmetic “world fusion” bands, Monoswezi plunge across international waters to meld a meeting of music’s that is well thought, well executed and an audio pleasure to be devoured.