by Tom Nguyen
The Very Best, the duo of Swedish DJ/producer Johan Karlberg (Radioclit) and Malawian singer Esau Mwamwaya, ended their North American tour in Los Angeles at The Roxy on June 24th. LA music audiences can be extremely fickle especially when it comes to unfamiliar and genre-deying music — one of my major gripes are people not showing up for amazing music like this rolling through town. The Very Best is doing something right and kudos to the full house of people who showed up on a Wednesday night!
I came expecting just the duo and was delighted so see a full band on stage, with Johan on the decks, Esau on lead vocals and Seye Adelekan and Jutty Taylor on guitars. In fact, the duo set out to make their new album Makes A King much more organic and with less electronic instruments than previous albums. Johan has been quoted as saying, “We’re constantly evolving…not just in the sense that we’re trying to change our sound. But we’re constantly on a new journey which colours the music we make.”
The music is a rich blend of Esau’s smooth vocals switching between his native language and English, Johan’s pulsing electro beats and African and Western instruments fusing together. One of my favorites, the title track Makes A King, captures that fluidity in their sound…the changing tempos, drums and beats are so infectious!
On stage, the band truly connects with their audience. Esau, Seye and Jutty took turns on vocals throughout the set, with Esau and Seye frequently jumping off stage to join the crowd, and Johan all smiles and head bobbing and weaving, working his electro beats like a party master. I love seeing a band that’s having as much fun as the audience and doesn’t believe in any separation between artist and fan. Definitely in a celebratory mood at their tour-ending show, they accepted drinks from the audience and invited anyone willing to go onstage to join them during their last song.
At one point, Jutty dedicated a song to a fan named Matthew, who always showed up to every show and had passed away recently. Their love and appreciation of fans is undeniable and there is a deeper meaning to their music as well, beyond the infectious dance rhythms. Esau is not afraid to sing about issues like poverty and political corruption in Malawi and raising awareness about the region. Their 2nd album MTMTMK stands for “More To Malawi Than Madonna’s Kids” and the video for Makes A King features the community organization and collective, Ethiopia Skate, empowering youth in Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa, with the birth of a grassroots skate movement.