Hidden Gems: Jacob Mafuleni and Gary Gritness, “Batanidzo”

In our series Hidden Gems, writers share their favorite Bandcamp discoveries.

Jacob Mafuleni is a virtuoso player of the mbira—a thumb piano central to the music of the Shona people of Zimbabwe. On this 2016 release, he teamed up with French techno producer Gary Gritness. Though Gritness is a much more widely known performer, he wisely let Mafuleni steer the session, and the result is less a hybrid of their styles than a mbira album with some electro-funk flourishes—skittering percussion on “Mukuru,” a deep, distorted burbing on “Mweya We Chikoni,” hand-clap background beats on “Nyama Iekougotcha.”

The mbira could easily be mistaken for an electronic instrument itself, its chiming, xylophone-like tone pattering over the melody line with an oddly frictionless purity. The collaboration is reminiscent of Francis Bebey‘s melding of electronica and African rhythms, though without Bebey’s cracked whimsy. Instead, Mafuleni and Gritness focus on the soul of the music, greatly aided by Mafuleni’s wife Martha Thorn on vocals. On “Zvichapera,” she and Mafuleni swap chants, Gritness throws in a dopplering spaceship effect, and Mafuleni responds with an affecting hum. It’s an Afrofuturist dance that turns the past into tranced-out tomorrow as the record spins.

Noah Berlatsky

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