Mashasha's eponymous debut UK leader album was released in July this year on the Elegwa Music label. As co-leader of Zimbabwe's perhaps most renowned jazz trio, Too Open, he had already recorded three albums with them in Zim, and appeared on numerous others there, principally as Zim's most sought-after bass player.
However, make no mistake about it, Mashasha is not simply Zim music or Zim-jazz. Rather, it is world music writ large. With a side picked from not only all over Africa but all over the world, and partly recorded in several parts of the globe as well, the influences that make themselves felt on Mashasha are just as diverse. They range from, naturally enough, Zim and Mashasha's Shona lyrics (bar one song in English), via South Africa, and West Africa to the US and Iran. Really, one should think of Mashasha as an international singer-songwriter, not just another Zim artist. Think of the album as singer-songwriter world music with inflections of drum-and-bass, blues and jazz and more. Definitely not your typical or stereotypical Afro-jazz album, Mashasha is intensely personal music that defies 'genres'.
All ten songs on Mashasha are originals. The lyrics are, as already noted, in Shona (one of the two main Zulu dialects of Zimbabwe), with one solitary exception in English. Reflective, thoughtful and poignant, as so often, they sadly do not seem to survive translation too well. English translations are provided in the liner, and I very much doubt that the fault is the translator's. Rather, this is a cultural-linguistic problem that is frequently encountered between different language groups where something that is the most beautiful, coherent poetry in one culture/language group just does not carry across to another. And in this case, native Shona speakers are usually deeply moved by the beauty and meaning of Mashasha's lyrics, yet the native English speaker may find themselves left struggling with some of the translated lyrics. But this should in no way detract from the quality of the music and of the album overall and certainly does not here.
And what quality! Mashasha and Mashasha have very serious 'wow factor' to say the least. This is music of the highest calibre, from a musician of the highest calibre. I was already wowed by Mashasha & Sam's live performance as part of an industry showcase. Mashasha takes things to yet another level. The outstanding compositions of Peter Mashasha are done justice by an equally outstanding assembly of international musicians.
The side includes aforementioned Sam Chagumachinyi, another third of Too Open and a phenomenal drummer and percussionist, outstanding US legend trombonist Ku-Umba Frank Lacy, legendary Iranian maestro of the Persian ney (a vertical Middle Eastern reed flute played, in the Persian tradition, with a difficult inter-dental embouchure) Davod Varzideh, Oz-based drummer and experimental musician Robbie Avenaim, Sydney and NY based keyboardist Danny G. Felix, and top Dakar guitarist Jeannot Mendy, to name but a few. The playing by all musicians is superb. Mashasha's vocals are just as outstanding.
The rich, thick textures of the music of Mashasha are enhanced by the equally rich production of this album by Peter Mashasha himself and co-producer Eugene Ulman. It has to be emphasised that the production of Mashasha really is as outstanding as the music and the performances. This can have been no easy task, given that parts of the album were recorded in different locations. This also has not affected the recording quality, which again is superb.
Highly consistent, Mashasha is more than compelling. Indeed, it is totally gripping and enchanting, an utter delight. Peter Mashasha is definitely the world music musician to look out for! I am sure we shall see and hear a lot more of him, and well beyond the UK too.
Mashasha's self-titled debut solo album is definitely something of a must have for the world music lover and yes, even the 'Afro-jazz' aficionado. Clearly not your typical Afro- or Zim-jazz album. Mashasha goes beyond that. In fact, beyond any 'genre' really. Get it!
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