A scurry of pert, upbeat percussion and a joyous cry of ‘Africa!’ announce that, after a lengthy split, Mozambique’s defining group are back. And, after the liquid dance music of their famous album, Mama Mosambiki, this is a welcome return to form.
You could suspect, listening to the densely woven rhythms in which tufo, masepua and morro patterns dance around, that Yellela (This is It) is a fun-time album. Well, it is that – but much more besides. Issufo Manuel, Omar Issa and Gimo Remane also have weighty themes at hand. Songs such as the opener, ‘Ohawha’ (Suffering), and ‘Othiawene’ (My Faraway Love) are self-explanatory, but the tones of singer Zena Bacar transport them to another place. Known as her country’s ‘golden voice’, Bacar sets a high standard whose range of emotion would be hard to parallel. Jazzy percussion music is underpinned by some subtle work on guitar, sax and keyboard – all solid foundations for singers Manuel and Bacar. ‘Masikini’ (Poverty) has lilting vocal harmonies that could come from a vintage Simon and Garfunkel song. But Yellela has its strongest charge in its combination of music and social comment. Its feelgood quality is apparent, but don’t miss their quiet, laconic meditations on women’s rights or the plight of their continent.