Baba Maraire | Wona Baba Maraire
album review by John Powell
Baba Maraire’s Wona Baba Maraire was hard to wrap my head around, hard to clear my head of stereotypical thoughts of Zimbabwean life, simple, beautiful moments of old cultures resonating even today. It was difficult to move away from thoughts of Baba Maraire dressed up in an Iporiyana breastplate and gazing off at some magnificent sunset.
And yet, the more I listened in to the sweet-as-honey tunes laden with mbira, n’goni, and layers of male and female vocals, all stripped down and masterfully recorded, the more these thoughts seemed the intended fixation of Wona Baba Maraire.
For those that don’t know, Baba Maraire started his career as one half of heavy-duty hip hop outfit C.A.V.E., but drawn back to his roots, he brought out his lighter side, trading in phat beats for slow cooking mbira music. All traces of that alter ego vanish in this stretch of pristine, mega chill, Zimbabwean tracks.
“Rhodzi”, the opener, sets up the whole feel, with layered percussion filling the speakers in poly-rhythmic juvenescence. Unless you speak the language, you’ll understand nothing, but this in no way hinders the cushiony sensation of positivity.
The title track shows where Zydeco music got its start, as the instruments filter in with vocalists introducing the song through upbeat harmonizing and Baba Maraire leading them a minute in, when the drumming starts.
“Luchea” is a highlight, with a catchy and snappy chorus and Baba Maraire storytelling in English the story of a blind boy that wanted to marry a woman. He could hear the sweet voice of one of the girls, and fell in love. It’s a magnificent folktale presented here in all its glory, a highly recommended sample of this album.
The downfall is the last song, “Is She?” I can get down with tasteful Auto Tune, but Baba Maraire’s voice is excellent, and here the Auto tune is incorrectly applied to an otherwise pretty love song. I don’t understand the reasoning behind it, and honestly, it ruins the song.
Overall, however, Wona Baba Maraire is an uplifting, elevating album with songs about passion, history, and family. Each song is similar instrumentally, but unlike many genres of music, where it becomes same old- same old, this album is built on energy and feel. It’s impossible not to fall in love with the majority of songs.
Bottom line: An unlikely musician performs an unlikely set of songs, with beautiful rewards.