Say that you’re a world music fan (or even worse, a world music journalist), and you’ve noticed a little bit of buzz growing around the Jimmy Mawi 10” coming out on Soundways Records. Perhaps you’ve had the following reactions: A) nice, I love 10”s!; B) what’s a 10”?; or maybe even the very practical response of C) Nice! when does this record come out? Whatever.
But you definitely asked, “Who the hell is Jimmy Mawi?”.
The only information that AllMusic.com has about it is that he has a 10” coming out soon on Soundways Records.Wikipedia searches turn up only, “Did you mean: ?”. Ask one of the Afropop old-timers about him, and you’ll just get a blank look and a firm reminder to get back to work. In fact, Google searches for “Jimmy Mawi” return only sales listings for the new record and the following press-release blurb from Soundways:
Continuing further into the music of 1970s East Africa, Soundway present raw, bluesy garage-funk-rock from Jimmy Mawi. Jimmy Mawi was a Madagascan guitarist based in Nairobi in the mid 1970s. He cut only three 45s for EMI East Africa on their Pathe imprint that have virtually disappeared from sight in the nearly 40 years since they were recorded. Soundway reproduce four of the best tracks here on a super limited edition 10″. Fuzz guitars, raspy vocals and metronomic drumming combine for an exhaustive afro-rock workout.
Lucky for us, that blurb’s not too far off, and the music speaks plenty for itself. From the first few seconds, the Jimmy Mawi 10” proves itself as a funky, left-of-center romp through the lush fields of 70’s Afro-Rock. The opening track, “Let Me Keep Away From You”, opens with a vocal/guitar duet that can be accurately described as “melismatic”, “frantic”, and “f-f-f-funky”, before slipping into a propulsive groove as effortlessly as an otter into a river.
The author of the above press-release had it right: there is a metronomic quality to this record, but that’s no dis. The straight-ahead, groove-til-you-can’t-groove-no-more approach to this record really might just be an invitation for further inspection, as it’s in the subtleties of Jimmy Mawi’s music that the listener will be rewarded. For example, take “Let Me Keep Away From You” and track 2, “I Want Get Up”. The inattentive listener could be forgiven for mistaking these two songs for one. The beat hasn’t changed at all, the keys sound related (if not exactly the same), and “I Want Get Up” is maybe a little slower. Maybe. A cursory listen and a lazy interpretation of these songs will lead you to those conclusions, but a more detailed examination reveals the impressive musicianship pervasive throughout this short collection. Yeah, there’s wah-wah guitar all over these tunes, but the versatility of that sound is proved even just between track one and two. Every tack features a blistering guitar solo, but they’re all top flight and would probably make Shuggie Otis at least a little jealous, so who cares? Are all the bass lines plucky jaunts up and down the neck? Yes, because that’s awesome! It might all be cut from the same cloth, but that doesn’t change the fact these Jimmy Mawi songs rocks.
Come to this record because it’s straight awesome to get your hands on some music that came close to being lost forever to the annals of musical history, but stay for the busy shuffle of tracks like “Black Dialogue”, stay for the excellent 12-bar blues of “Black Star Blues”, and stay for the overwhelming funkiness of the whole collection.