Review: Namvula – Debut Album Shiwezwa @ Old Queens Head (London, 3rd November 2014)

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To demonstrate how much Namvula is absorbed in her music I shall recount an incident that occurred during her album launch at the Old Queens Head in London. On stage she was entranced, moving to the relentless rhythm and the melody of her songAfrica, when suddenly a cloud of smoke began spreading around her curly mane. The flame of a candle behind the singer had set her hair alight, and had it not been for the prompt reaction of her fellow musicians who alerted her to the conflagration I would be narrating quite a different story. Namvula was completely unaware of the danger, too immersed in her rendition to realise what was happening. That, in essence, expresses how much music is part of Namvula’s life. She lives for music. Through it she’s able to state her roots and show her influences. She proudly affirms her Zambian and Scottish origins as well as her presence in London.

Backed by five extraordinary musicians Namvula projected her distinct sound, touching distant latitudes and traditions from the Southern part of Africa to the British Isles. She effortlessly switched between singing in English, Lenje (her native Zambian language), Portuguese and French. Her musical mood was unpredictable throughout the evening, depending on which song was being presented. For example, Kumushi, one of the most emotional moments of the gig, revealed the intimate side of Namvula, the one that points towards her home. Andorinha, with its delightfully expressed arpeggios and the call-and-response chorus enlightened the evening in a delicate and smooth way.

The first half of the concert reflected the peaceful attitude of the Zambian singer gently lulled along by her fans, who also enjoyed some memories and stories related to each song. The most touching tale was narrated during the introduction to Nsalamo. Namvula explained that the tune was dedicated to the memory and strength of her grandmother who left her violent husband. In order to return to her village she travelled alone with two children on her back for one week through the Zambian countryside. But it was during the second part of the event, when the pace of the rhythms stepped up and dancing became inevitable that Namvula disclosed her vitality in full swing. The artist and her musicians added lively tempo and fusion rhythms to the mellow harmonies and presented engaging and richly flavoured tunes like Yumya Moyo and Mukwesu, entrancing the audience.

After a glorious succession of her musicians’ solos, during which Namvula jumped down from the stage to dance with the audience, she said goodbye to the Old Queens Head with emotional enthusiasm. Unfortunately, you won’t find the same artistic ardour nor the same musical drive on her new record: they are prerogatives of Namvula’s live performance. However, what you get instead is an inspired and intense work that finally brings the vivid talent of a genuine artist to the world.

Link to buy the album: http://namvula.bandcamp.com/album/shiwezwa

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