Malawi Mouse Boys – Boogaloo, Highgate
Thursday 25th July
Musical influences between the First and the Third World go in both directions. For every whiteboy English R&B band of the sixties lifting old blues tunes from the Mississippi delta there’s an Indian band doing playback covers of The Beatles.
See me a Paul “Oh No, Hide The Rhythms, Quick” Simon scouring South Africa to rejuvenate his career and I’ll raise you Biggie Tembo of the Bhundu Boys covering “Hotel California” with passion, love and a complete absence of irony.
Music is music, all musicians are influenced by what they hear and in a shrinking global community the Malawi Mouse Boys are prime examples of this.
The name is not some cute gang moniker, referring to the day-job the guys in the band have held since they were boys. They sell mouse kebabs on sticks to passers-by at the side of the road, mice being something of a delicacy in Malawi.
Last year they recorded an album produced by Ian Brennan (Tinariwen), recorded mostly outdoors in Malawi.
The album is wonderful, music that relies purely on passion and emotion to carry it through. It’s basically an African gospel album with a stripped-back sound and straight-up Christian lyrics which both hark back to a previous age. The musical palette also encompasses loping old-school reggae rhythms and some unexpected, and welcome bluegrass notes. It does get a little but samey towards the end on first listen, but stick with it – the beautiful vocal interplay improves on repeated plays.
Tonight is their first ever gig in the UK as they prepare for an appearance at this weekend’s WOMAD festival.
Jaw dropping. Four guys from Malawi on their first day abroad, let alone in LDN. They’ve been shopping in Camden Market and have bought Wonderstuff merchandise. I know Kenny Rogers and the Eagles are huge in Africa but Miles Hunt and the boys? Weird …
Legend has it that there were only twelve people at the first British gig by Zimbabwe’s Bhundu Boys circa 1987. Social media and the release of the debut album last year mean the Mouse Boys have a much larger audience for their foreign debut. The Boogaloo is pretty much packed. An enthusiastic, encouraging crowd is here.
Instrumentation – two guitars, one home-made. But it’s the voices that grab the attention. They begin their first gig away from their home country with an accapella number, a clear, confident statement of intent.
Lead singer Zondiwe Kachingwe has a sweet voice reminiscent of Levi Stubbs of the Four Tops but it’s the vocal interplay between all four band members takes the music to another place.
Four strong, beautiful voices singing close harmonies with that incredibly “up” quality you hear in the likes of Toots And The Maytals, and the Beach Boys – and, it has to be said, driven by religious belief.
The devil has the best tunes? Nah. Theres a subject I need to return to some time…