(release date: October 27, 2023)
By Robert M. Marovich
Zambian singer-songwriter Muriel Mwansa Mwamba’s debut album was two decades in the making.
Lesa Alomfwa, translated as “God Listens,” sets African beats and folk music, as well as modern jazz and R&B, to inspirational and faith-based lyrics. Talking drums and bansuri meet saxophone and piano on the journey to spiritual healing.
While I cannot comment on the songs whose lyrics are in Icibemba, Lingala, or French, those in English proclaim the power of God as our anchor during overwhelming challenges. “Trials and Temptations,” for example, ruminates on daily disappointments, but Mwamba’s playful scatting, falsetto flights, and faith talk remind us that nothing is insurmountable. Mwamba knows a thing or two about trials and tribulations. She emigrated to the U.S. from an economically shattered Zambia, only to deal with the loss of her parents and a period of homelessness. Through two decades she kept at it, scheduling studio time whenever she had extra money, until the ten-track album was complete.
The band supports Mwemba as if they had worked with her their entire lives. Members include Jojo Kuo on drums, AJ on Njembe drum, Kofo the Wonderman on talking drums, Martino Atangana on guitar, Tony Barbar on bansuri, and Senegalese artist Thierno Camara on bass. They turn out that mesmerizing perpetual rhythmic motion that characterizes much of African folk music. They even bestow a polyrhythmic feel to the Edith Piaf ballad “Je M’imagine.”
Fans of Afrobeat music or the textured vocal stylings of Angelique Kidjo will enjoy—and probably dance to—Lesa Alomfwa, with its repetitive rhythmic motives driven by ancient and contemporary instruments. Altogether, the album demonstrates the power of perseverance. Muriel Mwamba’s tale of survival and success is a lesson for us all.
Four of Five Stars
Picks: “Sweet Memories,” “Kalulu”