I don’t know what the weather’s like at the moment in the States, but here in Northern Europe, it sucks hard. Wind, rain, hail, the lot. Which makes Baba Maraire’s sun-drenched album as welcome as, well, sunshine on a rainy day. But despite an unashamedly beautiful feel-good album, there’s far more to Wona Baba Maraire than sunshine, lollypops and rainbows.
Let’s start at the beginning. It’s an album made by Tendai ‘Baba’ Maraire, the son of legendary Zimbabwean musician Dumisani Maraire, the man who first introduced his country’s music to North America. You might know Baba as one half of ambitious hip-hop outfit Shabazz Palaces, but what he’s doing here is a world away from hip-hop. Wona Baba Maraire is his tribute to his ancestral home, Zimbabwe, ‘filtered through the lens of a young man growing up in the once-mean streets of south Seattle’. Baba has gone back to the source to produce a stunning album that radiates warmth, joy and pride. Fittingly for such a personal project, Baba plays almost everything himself, while he’s backed on vocals by his mother, cousin and fiancé.
The music he’s making here is shona, the music of the indigenous Zimbabwe people. It’s dominated by the mbira, an instrument also known as the thumb piano or finger xylophone. According to some experts it’s the instrument most typical of Africa, which is why anyone familiar with Francis Bebey’s Akwaaba album, or indeed with more than a passing interest in African music, will feel instantly at home with Wona Baba Maraire. You can’t help it. If it’s not the mbira, you’ll be lured in by the warm vocal harmonies, or the simple fact that it’s a delightful and infinitely rewarding album to listen to. But as it’s an album from a switched-on hip artist hailing from a country with such a volatile past and present, you won’t be surprised that there’s much more to Wona Baba Maraire than good vibes.
Yes, it’s a celebration of Zimbabwe the country and its culture, but the country that came into being after its people had thrown off the yoke of colonial oppression. “Rhodzi” is a tribute to all those fought, and died, for independence, and the impassioned refrain of “Zimbabwe” aches with resonance. And joy. In a way, there are a lot of comparisons to be made here to gospel music, as the music of a repressed people whose faith and love (And music) carries them through to their eventual freedom. How Zimbabwe got over in other words. Wona Baba Maraire is infused with that joy, a joy and music that should be celebrated and shared throughout the world.
- Will Georgi