This is indeed a magic album, as the title suggests. It's happy and carefree, despite what life must be like in Moçambique. The strains of Azania are present in the Zulu-style female backing vocals. As I pointed out when reviewing their excellent debut album, Karimbo, the band was formed from traditional musicians trying to keep their music alive with some younger up-and-comers who wanted to push some boundaries. It does remind me of the Makgona Tshole band from Soweto, with its party atmosphere & brittle guitar lead & shuffling bass. The rapping encroaches but the overall impression is of mellow sax, great harmonies, fine acoustic guitar. It's a greatest hits with the deep gravely vocals of Lisboa Matavel and other old-timer Dilon Djinji riding the bright Marrabenta current. Most of the tracks appeared on their two Riverboat albums, Karimbo (TUG1021) and Soul Marrabenta (TUG1024), which are excellent, but if you have those, there's not much more here. If you have neither, this is a worthy best of compilation worth checking out.

NWAHULWANA (Piranha CD PIR-1572)

Marrabenta music appeared in the 1940s as a rebellion against the Portuguese authorities in Mozambique, who were irritated that the songs were in dialects they didn't understand (Ronga and Chope). The musicians played their home-made guitars so fiercely they snapped the fishing-wire strings ("rebentar" is Portuguese to break). In 1975 the country gained independence but was immediately plunged into civil war provoked by the South African apartheid government. They used the Mozambiquan capital as a playground for their dirty habits (like drugs, gambling and prostitution, in the same way North Americans used pre-Castro Havana). The national radio house-band Marrabenta Star was formed of all the country's top musicians and they toured the Lusophone world playing Portuguese pop, Brazilian music and their own compositions. The recording sessions from which this reissue is drawn produced a massive hit "Nwahulwana," the title cut, which was an underground hit in California in 1990 (thanks to Round World Music and other little independent record stores) and was picked up by Microsoft and used in an international advertising campaign. Then it was featured in the soundtrack of Sean Penn's movie THE PLEDGE, giving it further legs and prompting this reissue on the Piranha label from Germany. There's a real horn section and fine solo guitar from Sox. He uses a Boss Flanger so his tone is reminiscent of Remmy Ongala. The title cut does have a haunting beauty and the rest of the album has a fond raggedness, the occasionally off-key horn parts giving you the feeling of being there in a steamy little bar in Maputo.

KARIMBO (World Music Network 2000)

Some great music has been born of adversity and hardship. As one of the poorest nations on earth, Mozambique has had more than its share of troubles. Its music has been overlooked as civil war and other strife have wracked the country. In the 1940s Hugh Tracey drove up from South Africa to record some xylophone ensembles, but since then the only music of note has been the recordings of the national radio orchestra, Marabenta Star, and two compilations on Globestyle put out in 1994. Now there is an independent recording studio in the country, Mozambique Recording, and its first offering is very impressive. Having overcome the hardship of establishing an independent studio, producer Roland Hohberg was then faced with disasterous floods that led to power cuts and the partial destruction of his premises.

KARIMBO by Mabulu is a showcase of the best active artists in Mozambique who have come together in a group comprised of sixty-year-old street musicians and young pups. The predominant influence is South African, but there are touches of rap and sweetly-flanged Zambian or Tanzanian guitar. I don't like rap in any language: it is monotonous and sounds menacing, declaimed with distaste and anger, but here it's not intrusive. There's plenty of harmonious singing and a lilting groove to most of the songs which, nevertheless, are about poverty and pain. As a mixture of traditional and contemporary sound, the album is perfect.

MOZAMBIQUE ONE (GlobeStyle CD ORB 086, 1994)

It used to be that folks looking for a little exotica would turn to Africa for some pygmy hocketing or talking drums to spice their diet of Western pop, but increasingly African pop music has grown to sound like hip-hop and other discoid fare. The frisson of otherness can still be found, if that's what you're after, in this sampler from Mozambique which showcases fifteen different groups playing music unlike anything you're likely to have heard before. Mozambique has resisted outside influences even as it struggled with a long brutal civil war, which was still going on at the time of this recording. A Ladysmith Black Mambazo tribute by Makwaela might sound a bit familiar, and perhaps too the Gregorian harmonies of the Grupo Estrela Vermelha, but it soon drifts into otherworldliness. Traditional log drums have been replaced by oil drums or pieces of corrugated metal, and coffee cans filled with pebbles substitute for gourd rattles, but the indigenous rhythms and melodies endure.


Rough Guide has put out close to 60 CDs in their collaboration with World Music Network to provide samplers of the music of different cultures. THE ROUGH GUIDE TO MARRABENTA MOZAMBIQUE features the biggest names in Mozambiquan music alongside some obscure gems. The Portuguese colonists typically outlawed marrabenta music as subversive so it didn't flourish until after independence in 1975. Surrounded as the country is by South Africa, Zimbabwe and Tanzania, the music of Mozambique bears similarities to each of those musics. The short-lived supergroup Orchestra Marrabenta Star has the Swaheli influence of skittering percussion, the flat picked guitar sound of Tanzania, and the Zambian-Zairean mix of rhythm and lead guitars. The hybrid is a distinctly Mozambiquan sound, however, and has evolved with, inevitably, a rap influence heard in the sound of Mabulu, the latest supergroup, comprised of musicians of the young and older generations. Arakas Band and Lisboa Matavel both create interesting hybrids. There are traces of m'bqanga and Zimbabwean reggae in their grooves. The traditional Mozambiquan xylophone sound can be heard in Alberto Mula's rollicking "Anghena bava mula."

South African sax jive is the influence on the work of Ghorwane who disbanded five years ago after their leader was murdered.

Eyuphuro has recently got back together. Their comeback album, YELLELA, sampled here, shows their increasing sophistication. The recording industry in Mozambique is still in chaos and there is only one independent studio outside the state-run radio. Over half of the tracks on this album were specially recorded for the project because of the poor quality of available sources. A decade ago, another British company, Globestyle, went to Mozambique and put out four CDs of field recordings that depicted the culture emerging from strife. The music in the new set is more polished. I miss the raggedness and xylophone ensembles, but doubtless they are still there in the bairros making their music of protest.