25 August 2008

Monday's mp3: Neco Novellas' Mozambique Masala

CD REVIEW

Neco Novellas: New Dawn/Ku Khata
(Times Square / World Connection)

I've been listening to a fantastic new African album this week. I had never heard of Neco Novellas before, but I'm now a firm fan. I wrote the notes below during my initial listen, cut off from the research possibilities of the Internet.

I know what to expect from many global labels and artists, but once in a while a album appears that I know nothing about. And it floors me. New Dawn/Ku Khata is just such an album. Perhaps it's just as well that I'm writing this unconnected to the Internet. Instead of looking up biographical information on Neco Novellas, I have only my ears and scant liner notes to go by.

The album opens with the South African-style a capella vocals of the title track, sung in English and Chopi (Chopi? Where's my Google?). Then it's off to something sounding like Cameroonian- jazz-meets-Brazilian-samba on "Vermelha/Red" sung in Portuguese (Angola, perhaps, or Mozambique?).

Neco Novalles on SoundRoots.orgIt's a disservice to the music to focus on describing the details of the songs and languages used (also including Ronga, Hebrew, Xangana, Spanish, English, and French, by the way). Despite knowing nothing about the musicians and little about the songs, I find this immensely joyful music. What do I care that people around me may puzzle at the goofy smile that grows on my face as I play endless loops of this album on my headphones.

[mp3] Neco Novellas: Zula Zula
From the album New Dawn/Ku Khata

With its rich harmonies, fantastic arrangements, and global influences, this is the rare album that isn't clearly rooted in a specific location but nonetheless hits my heart in a very specific spot. Neco Novellas has crafted a sound that's inviting, genre-defying, and a great soundtrack for the global optimist.

Now that I'm re-connected to the information lifeblood of the Web, I know that Novellas is from Mozambique, and now makes his home in the Netherlands. Subsequent listens have revealed some weakeness in the CD: The English-language songspeak of "Phumela" seems oddly (and not necessarily flatteringly) reminiscent of Paul Simon's Graceland, and other songs sprawl around to suggest influences as diverse Ladysmith Black Mambazo to The Police to Hugh Masekela and Al Jarreau. Is this too much for a single album to undertake? Perhaps. Still, New Dawn/Ku Khata highlights Novellas as talented musician with a fresh vision, and one to watch as his own musical identity emerges more clearly from those who have influenced him.

More Novellas info at www.worldconnection.nl
Novellas interview/music on youtube
Novellas on myspace


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