The Very Best + Malawi

Big fan of The Very Best around here. Shared their debut right here. Right up there with Blk Jks, Extra Golden and Nneka as what's fresh outta mama Africa these days.

The band has been performing regularly at the annual (volunteer run!) Lake of Stars Festival in Malawi. Some background:

The festival was borne from a desire to raise money for a developing economy, help promote Malawi as a tourist destination and expose Malawian artists to international crowds. Set on the shimmering, palm-fringed shores of Lake Malawi International and African artists gather for a musical, social and cultural exchange unlike anything you will have seen before.

The song "Julia" from their Warm Heart of Africa album was widely popular in 2009. According to group member Johan Karlberg, the opportunity to remix the track with a host of African artists arose that same year at the Malawi festival: “We stayed in a bungalow last year with all these stars, rappers singers etc, they all came through and we did a remix of Julia, which is on a remix album, coming out in England.” The remix features Sway (UK), Tay Grin and Lucius Banda (Malawi), and DJ Mo-Laudi (South Africa). (via AfricaIsACountry)

The band was also recently interviewed by AfriPOP online. You can check that out below.

Julia (remix)



AfriPOP!: So can we hear the story about how you guys met?

Esau: I had a shop in London actually a junk shop, and so one of the guys who’s not here Etiene, was one of my usual customers, so along the line he came to me and asked me what else I was interested in doing, apart from being a shop owner, and I told him I was a drummer. So at the same time the two were looking for an African percussionist. Etiene had a house warming party the same night, and invited me to the party, and I went so that’s where I hooked with Johan there as well. I He said I understand your a drummer, so he invited me to his studio to do some recordings. But I ended up being a singer instead of a drummer.

Johan: Yeah there was no decision you know, straight up, we invited a lot of people, and he turned out to be a singer, and we just work really well. There wasn’t really a decision to make. Every weekend Esau would come in and it was always great and after that we had so many great songs that we were like ok we should make an album.

AfriPOP!: Tell us about your production process?

Jonah: On the first album and the first mixtape it was Radioclit giving Esau instrumental music to write to. Either he’d write it on the spot or take it away and get back to us with stuff he wrote. One week we’d give him one song and we’d record the song the next week. On the new album we started to work a lot more in between ourselves, we don’t live in London anymore so everything is being done on the road. We’re just finishing up a second mixtape actually. At the moment its just everyone bringing all their ideas, so we’re seeing what sticks.

AfriPOP!: This is for Esau, what kind of influence does your experience in Malawi have on your music?

Esau: I grew up as a kid in Malawi, and my father used to buy a lot of tapes, so I grew up in a musical environment. When I was about 9 years old I remember I was so interested in playing drums, I would collect tins and sticks and play around, not knowing that in the future I would actually be a drummer. When I finished high school, I was home, because I didn’t make it to college. I was looking for a job, and some friend came and told me about a local band that I’d be interested in joining. He thought I could sing. That’s where I learned how to play drums; I was with them for 2 years until I moved to London. When I moved to London I spent time to doing some work. Musically, so many things influence me. Nature is the most important thing that influences me, besides my dad who was a music lover. There are music artists that influence me a lot, like Peter Tosh; I grew up listening to him a lot. Bob Marley, Paul Simon, Dolly Parton, I listened to her a lot.

Jonah: (Bursts out laughing) I love when its like that with artists, they will give influences that seemingly has got nothing whatsoever to do with their music. Reggae you can see how that works, but Dolly Parton for me is very far even though its great music.

AfriPOP!: What differences do you see between working as Radioclit and working as The Very Best?

Jonah: Radioclit taught me the foundations because I learned what to do with singers. Working with Esau was easier than working with any artists or rapper that I’ve worked with. Almost every single song we worked on with Esau ended up being a song along the way. We don’t have good songs lying around because we never got to finish it for some reason. I’ve never worked with anyone I’ve connected so easily with musically. I know that when we work 90% percent of the time, after 10 minutes we’ve already got the melody locked down. That ease is probably the most significantly different thing about working on the Very Best and Radioclit.

AfriPOP!: Do you plan on doing collaborations with any local Malawian artists, or African artists in general?

Jonah: We’ve done some work with Malawian artists. Lake of Stars festival is the one festival in Malawi; we’ve played there every year for the last few years. We stayed in a bungalow last year with all these stars, rappers singers etc, they all came through and we did a remix of Julia, which is on a remix album, coming out in England. On the new album, we recorded with some of the biggest artists that are still alive.

AfriPOP!: Names?

Jonah: I’ll just say everyone we could ever dream of working with

AfriPOP!: What was the reception like when you played there?

Esau: The first year it was a bit strange because people didn’t know us, so people were like “Who are those guys?” The last year was pretty good, because people were familiar with us. All the western people coming there they knew us already. As time goes, people get to know us.

Jonah:You know in Malawi, we don’t have a label there, everything works extremely differently, and its only over the last 6 or 4 months that we’ve really taken off. The videos, our songs are being played on the radio. With the press over there, its crazy, the main newspaper is running a front page article on Esau every 2nd month, like where is he this month. This year we were supposed to go back, but with being on tour with Vampire Weekend we can’t. It’s my favorite festival in the whole world. It’s about 5,000 people, on the beach, with a beautiful setting. Super mixed crowd, most of the people have travelled so damn far to get there. Even people from Africa come from South Africa, Nigeria; they have a good travel to get there. Everyone really wants to be there. Super good vibe.

AfriPOP!: Do you guys plan on releasing anything locally?

Jonah: We’re negotiating with a company in Malawi and one in South Africa. You know there’s record labels in South Africa, but in Malawi people bootleg. I’m all for bootlegging, I don’t care. The people in the Malawi Nation the Malawian newspaper have really helped support us. As far as helping us get the videos out and music on the radio. If people want to bootleg the album, I’m glad as long as they hear it.

Esau: In Malawi there’s no real record store, and also pirates know that weakness, when people like your music and they have no way to get it, what else can they do other than bootleg it?

Jonah: Even if it was available, most people live on less than a dollar a day, how could you possibly try to sell an album. I would rather make money doing something else around the world, and give away 10,000 free copies on the release day of an album in Malawi. What’s the point we’re never going to make money there, and we don’t want them to spend the money that they do have on our music. If the Internet was working properly there, which its not, unfortunately, I would be happy to put up a link for people in Malawi, or in Africa, to be able to get it. I don’t really care if people anywhere around the world bootleg our stuff, anytime were there we bring copies of our albums, and burn as many copies as we can and give it away.

AfriPOP!: Not to instigate anything, but Esau would you ever head back and do your own thing?

Esau: It’s just that its quite hard, I was away from Malawi for quite a long time. I tried to make music in Malawi like 10 years ago before I moved to London, which I kind of feel like being older, like it holds good future for me. Maybe in the long run, Malawi is my home, so I can never say that I can’t make music in Malawi. I have a dream about it, when you get tired, you think about doing something else. I would like to settle down, and maybe help out other artists in Malawi. I think about that alot, because in Malawi there are so many artists, but they can’t reach out, there aren’t real studios.

Jonah: Esau just bought a lot of land in Malawi, and I bought a plot next to it. Its in the planning stages, but we’re going to use it to build a studio that we can use while we’re out there, and we can let other artists use it to record, and let them come through and do work. It would be a no cost situation, once its built, so that’s something that we really want to do. It’s still very early though. There are a couple of studios, but they costs so much. Its English people running it for profit, but we would run ours as non-profit.

AfriPOP!: What can we expect from the new mixtape?

Jonah: A few things have leaked already, we’ve had a Yeasayer thing leak, a Florence and the Machine thing, I mean my favorite thing that I’ve done right now is the one with LCD Soundsystem thing. They wouldn’t approve it so we made a sample out of their song. We’re still waiting on their approval. It’s always nice when an artist approves. At the end of the day we’ll put it out, but we’ll send it to him and hope he approves it.

AfriPOP!: Any last words?

Jonah: Coming from three years ago, to hustling like crazy, to taking off and touring the US currently, to the Roots inviting us to play this concert. It’s been overwhelmingly great to be able to do what we want to do, and get a good response. Like today I don’t think people knew us, but its great to see people react, when they get taken a back. That’s better than a thousand people knowing all the words. You could tell they weren’t aware, but they were still moving, in that kind of situation I’m really grateful. (source)

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