International music collection Monoswezi is scheduled to release its latest album, Shanu this week. The band’s fifth album, it is scheduled for release Friday through Riverboat Records and World Music Network. The nine-song presentation is a surprisingly enjoyable addition to this year’s field of new World Music offerings and will appeal to audiences new and established alike. That is due in no small part to its featured musical arrangements. They will be discussed shortly. The record’s liner notes build on the appeal established through the album’s musical arrangements and make the record even more engaging and entertaining. They will be addressed a little later. The record’s production rounds out its most important elements and will also be examined later. Each item noted is important in its own way to the whole of the album’s presentation. All things considered, they make Shanu a strong new offering from Monoswezi that is among the best of this year’s new World Music offerings.
Monoswezi’s fifth full-length studio recording, Sanu, (which just so happens to translate to the word “five” from the Shona language of Zimbabwe) is an impressive new offering from the group. The record’s appeal begins with its featured musical arrangements. The arrangements in question blend elements of Zimbabe, the home nation of the group’s vocalist, Hope Masike, with just enough subtle Western influences to make them appealing for pop musi and World Music fans alike. One of the most notable ways in which this is evidenced is in the early entry, ‘Woshanda.’ The arrangement here incorporates Masike’s African percussion influences with a distinct Western disco influence for a whole that is unique, to say the very least. The African percussion comes primarily here through the subtle use of the mbira (basically a little finger piano) while the western influence is a more prominent use of keyboards and electronics. The blending of those influences here makes the whole a surprisingly infectious composition that is certain to get listeners dancing. Ironically, as danceable as the musical arrangement proves here, it is an interesting contrast to the song’s lyrical theme, which will be discussed in the examination of the album’s liner notes.
Immediately after ‘Woshanda,’ the group continues to exhibit the way in which it blends its African and American influences so fluidly in the form of ‘Where is My Mbira?’ As the title notes, the song once again incorporates the mbira. The instrument, by the way, is traditional to the Shona people of Zimbabwe, fittingly. At the same time, the song also incorporates a distinct western R&B sensibility into the mix alongside a subtle, country western style guitar line to make the whole all the more interesting. The mix of musical influences immediately conjures thoughts from the group’s fellow international music performer Dobe Gnahore, who released her latest album, Couleur early this year. The overall subtlety of the mix is unlike the more energetic approach taken in ‘Woshanda,’ showing in its own way, the diversity and originality of the album’s featured musical arrangements.
‘Um Pouco,’ which serves as the second half of the album’s midpoint, is another example of the diversity in the album’s musical arrangements and how the diversity within the songs themselves makes them so appealing. In the case of this song, Masike’s Zimbabwean roots remain on display. However in this composition, that influence is complimented with a horn and saxophone arrangement that at times conjures thoughts of the lounge style jazz sounds of the 60s and at others of the soul and funk of the age. That soul and funk leaning is made even more evident as the group incorporates some equally subtle guitar and percussion lines into the work. The balance of those elements here makes the song’s arrangement just as unique as the others examined here and just as engaging and entertaining. When this work and those noted are considered along with the rest of the album’s works, the whole of that content gives audiences more than enough reason to take in this record. As much as the noted content does to make the album so appealing, it is just one part of the album’s success. The record’s liner notes add their own appeal to the overall presentation.
The liner notes featured in Shanu are important to address because of the information that they provide. For instance, with each song is an explanation of the song’s lyrical theme. This explanation is so important because save for one song – ‘We Crown You Nehanda’ – the album’s songs are sung in Masike’s native tongue. Masike actually presents the whole of the one noted song in English. The themes in each song are accessible to audiences American, Zimbabwean and otherwise. Case in point is the theme of ‘Zvorema,’ In the case of this song, the liner notes point out that the song centers on the topic of encouraging the downtrodden. It states here, “A lament to the heavens to help us carry and fight the burden of greedy and selfish leaders who feast off the tears and sweat of the rest.” This is a topic that will, again, resonate with any listener. Understanding that theme, the song’s musical arrangement, which is decidedly somber and almost melancholy, makes sense and becomes more moving in its impact.
The information provided about ‘Tsika Szako’ states that this song is about the importance of appreciating one’s culture and not giving up on it and just adopting the culture of another. The information states here, “It’s a form of poverty when one shuns their own traditions and heritage in favour of other cultures. Look for the good in each culture, including your own.” Again, this is a fully accessible theme. Even though Masike, again, sings fully in her native tongue here, audiences can understand and appreciate the message as it is translated so well here and in the mood set by herself and her fellow musicians.
As if everything noted here is not enough, the group also takes on the topics of love lost and gained here in the album’s opener, ‘Kuwonerewa’ and ‘Paya.’ The opener is about love lost and the closer brings things full circle as it focuses on love gained. In regards to the album’s opener, the description points out that the song centers on the feeling that one has as a relationship progresses but changes in a not-so good way. Meanwhile, the closer states simply, “Oh, how beautiful it is to be in your arms!” That speaks volumes. So again, audiences are given at least some translation in the liner notes. Those notes go a long way toward making the arrangements (and songs in general) more appealing. That is because those brief but concise explanations work well to make for more appreciation for the album’s arrangements. Together, the explanations and musical arrangements make the songs fully translated and in turn all the more engaging and entertaining. To that end, the overall content strengthens the album’s presentation that much more. Even with this in mind, there is still at least one more item to examine in the form of the album’s production.
Shanu’s production is important to examine because of its impact on the arrangements. As already noted, the arrangements featured here blend elements of Masike’s home nation of Zimbabwe with more accessible western musical influences. This is also addressed in the liner notes. Audiences will learn that this approach was intentional this time out for the group. Getting back on the matter at hand, the album’s production played clearly through each arrangement. The time and effort put into each composition, to balance those African and American musical influences expertly balances the noted elements. The subtleties in that balance completely immerse audiences in each song. The end result is that the album’s production makes its aesthetic impact just as strong as that of the arrangements and the album’s liner notes. Each item noted, they make the album overall, a successful work that Monoswezi’s established audiences will enjoy just as much as those who are less familiar with the group and its catalog.
Monoswezi’s latest album, Sanu, is an impressive new offering from the international musical collective. Its success comes in part through its featured musical arrangements. The arrangements offer audiences the best of both worlds so to speak as they blend elements of Africa and America into one in each work. It is a first for the group, too, making for even more interest. The blending of that work will immerse audiences into the record by itself. The liner notes that accompany the record are also of importance here. That is because they lessen the impact of the songs being sung mostly in the native tongue of front woman Hope Masike. The themes prove quite accessible, and when they are considered alongside their musical counterparts, the result is even more enjoyment for listeners. The record’s production adds to the immersion that audiences will experience in listening to each arrangement. That is because it exhibits the time and effort put into balancing each song’s instrumentation. It brings everything together and completes the record’s presentation. Each item noted is important in its own way to the whole of the album. All things considered, they make Sanu a successful new offering from Monoswezi that is also among the best of this year’s new World Music albums.
Shanu is scheduled for release Friday through Riverboat Records and World Music Network. More information on Shanu is available along with all of Monoswezi’s latest news at:
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