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Namvula Namvula
Album: Quiet Revolutions
Label: NMR
Tracks: 12

A conflation of traditional Zambian music and cool Jazz, tempered with the sadness of a northern winter, but an album that is difficult to pin down.

The multi-talented Namvula Rennie was born in Zambia of Scottish/Zambian parentage. A childhood in Switzerland followed, and then immersion in London's cosmopolitan world music scene. Her first album 'Shiweza' was released to critical acclaim in 2014, and this is her hotly anticipate follow up.

This work has a bold concept, celebrating the quiet revolutions being initiated today by women all over the world. A strong message, sung in Zambian languages and English, French and Portuguese.

The album begins with 'Mbuya', a softly strummed riff on electric guitar, a mellow groove, and Namvula's vocals, switching between spoken word and gentle melody. A parable of exile in the big city.

The percussion driven 'Nalile' (Little Sorrow), based on a traditional theme, has vocals floating across and around a steady beat, then change of a rhythm and language, 'What's the use of dreaming while all you'll know is tears'.

'Zuba' rocks along nicely, with the full band locking together well as a unit, and the first appearance of the smoky sax of Chris Williams, who opens the up-tempo 'Boola Kuli', his horn leading into a bass funky riff, and high guitar solo. Then vocals come in, fluid and assured, and a minor switch as the band rock out.

'Night Song', is a ballad of regret and disentanglement over guitar and Kadialy Kouyate's kora, the mood intimate. 'Nine Olimba' continues in the same vein, with a lilting chorus, and high refrain, flute lines interweave with scat.

This album works a little too hard to impress and comes across as passionless. It is cool to a fault, over polite, despite the emotive subject. The artist has put together a band of renowned musicians, produced by bass player Lira Donin, and as an instrumental album with vocals, this works well, but that may not be the intention of the creator.

The album only really takes off on 'Kolomfula', a driving minor key blues, one of the simplest musical constructions presented, and the more powerful for it. We finally hear some anger in Namvula's vocal reading of what sounds like her personal call to arms. Whilst deploring the over- emotive belting of contemporary pop, it is good to hear the Rennie voice raising the stakes.

The title track 'Quiet Revolutions', whilst mellow in tone, has angst and vulnerability in the vocal reading, a sense of danger and hope, a window into the true intention of the artist

Well worth seeking out, it will be interesting to see how this prodigiously talented one-woman arts hub develops as a writer, musician, storyteller and creative. In her words:

'let the map be redrawn, and the dream unfurls; so, the winds are unbound, and she rises, morning star.'

Laura Thomas