Malawi Mouse Boys

During a talent-seeking trip to Southern Africa in 2011, producer Ian Brennan (Tinariwen) came upon a group of young men selling cooked mice on sticks to passersby outside of a small rural village in Malawi. One man had a rudimentary guitar made from pieces of scrap metal and, with some gentle coaxing, Brennan had soon convinced him to play a song. Alfred Gavanala, the shy young guitarist, began to quietly strum a melodic, uplifting song he'd written and was soon joined by the crowd surrounding him who knew the words. Inspired by the performance, Brennan asked if Gavanala had any friends who also play music and plans were made to return the following day for what amounted to a small village jam session. On portable recording equipment outside of a clay hut, Brennan captured a remarkable and uplifting collection of rustic African gospel and folk music by a group later dubbed the Malawi Mouse Boys. Of the musicians he captured, a core group emerged centered around Gavanala, Nelson Mulligo, Zondiwe Kachingwe, and Joseph Nekwankwa, most of whom had been singing together since childhood. Played on rudimentary instruments including Coke cans, bicycle spokes, and a half-destroyed old guitar played like a bass, the Mouse Boys' music is enticingly rustic and primitive, but it's the purity of their voices and their rich harmonies that are most compelling. Their debut album, 2012's He Is #1, was the first record in the Chichewa language to be released outside of Malawi. At the 2013 WOMAD Festival in England, they made their first international appearance as well as their first ever performance on an actual stage. By the release of their 2014 follow-up, Dirt Is Good, they had toured both Europe and the U.S., though their musical approach remained humble with Brennan continuing to produce for them. Forever Is 4 U, their third album, was released in the spring of 2016 and included subtle influences from their world travels, which by that point included tours of Australia and New Zealand. ~ Timothy Monger

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