King of Me (Kanaga System Krush, 2013)
King of Me highlights the fabulous sound of the electric mbira. American musician Chris Berry fell in love with the mbira, the beautiful acoustic thumb piano of Zimbabwe. Berry ended up living in Zimbabwe for eight years, learning mbira from local masters. Eventually he was forced to flee Zimbabwe because of the political situation there. Berry deconstructed the mbira and decided to make it electric. Although he is not reported to be the inventor of the electric mbira, he created his own vision of the electric mbira.
“I cut the mbira in half,” he says, “and sent one side out through a guitar amp, and another side out to the bass amp. I had to go back and redesign the mbira, as it was too tinny and live and make all the keys twice the thickness, or more. I needed a deader sound.”
For his latest recording project, King of Me, Berry chose an unadorned format of voice, mbira, and the drum kit of Ivorian musician Abou Diarrassouba. Other guests include backup vocalists Awa Snagho and Deja Solis, and percussionists Daniel Moreno and Moussa Camara.
“I laid myself bare,” recollects Berry. “It’s easy to hide behind a rambunctious horn section. Big arrangements can take the heat off you as an artist. But now, there’s nothing to hide behind. After all I’ve done, this is who I am.”
Stylistically, Berry chose to go into a pop-rock direction. The best cuts are the one where the African roots are deeper and he gives space to the mbira and the guest vocalists, such as ‘U’, ‘Shadow of a Whip’, ‘Samauhay’ and ‘Sekai.’ Honestly, I think Berry’s vocals are the weakest part of the album and he should have featured more of the African singers. Berry has managed to create a wonderful version of the mbira and it would be great to see him explore that part of his creativity.
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