A transitional album or an album about transitions, well ‘Like A River’ by Muito Kaballa is both. It marks the Cologne based collective’s move from Belgian label Rebel Up to the equally dynamic but maybe higher profile Batov Records and meets the rising levels of expectation surrounding the band within the global beat world.
Led by sax player and composer Niklas Mündemann and carrying the name he used from as a street performer, the group aim to sustain the inventive spirit of their leader’s busking beginnings. Coming together when Mündemann met keyboardist Jan Janzen, the tight knit ensemble version of Muito Kaballa have shaped their distinctive afro-fusion sound through a forthright commitment to live performance and the recording of two vibrant albums, ‘Mamari’ in 2021 and last year’s ‘Little Child’. With that sort of schedule you might think that here’s a group that’s on a mission but Muito Kaballa are clearly driven by creative energy rather than careless ambition. ‘Like A River’ showcases a band whose ideas are constantly on the move.
This time around the sound reaches further beyond those afrobeat reference points to welcome in future funk, jazz and neo soul influences, while the lyrical motivations become less social commentary, more personal. The pressures of growing older, settling down, kicking against the norm, or as Mündemann puts it ‘how to live relationships and love’, these are the feelings underpinning ‘Like A River’. So where Muito Kaballa’s music has always had a dynamic impact, it now carries a broader emotional sweep that let’s you surf further and dive deeper.
The album centres around the integral three-part song-suite Like A River which provides a focus for the other tunes to feed from. The first instalment opens the record, a slinky samba-fluid piece of music that slips smoothly around comparisons. From the flighty, Canterbury prog patterns of Tim von Malotki’s clarinet intro to the sparkling highlife-toned guitars; from Jan Janzen’s dripping piano lines to those Panda Bearish synth runs; from the warm toned horns to Nora Beisel’s jazz agile, shiny dream-pop vocals; this is glistening fusion music.
At the album’s mid-point Like A River Part II reflects a course that’s wilder and more mysterious. The tempo takes up an afro-funk twitch then plunges into a whirling Laswell bass pool while Beisel’s vocal pierces through the turbulence with an eerie rock yowl. ‘The ocean is my home’ she calls out on a way to some darker destination. It’s left to Like A River Part III to find some resolution and round off the album’s story with a brief cosmic funk, synth sequenced coda that drifts off to some watery calm.
Such liquid shifts and the buoyant natural flow of these three core tracks are a clear catalyst for the expansive mindset that inspires the other music on the album. Luna, written by bassist Luna Weise, takes modern bossa and sweaty nightlife rhythms to a whole other place with its peeling soukous guitars, urgent jazz sax and tight afrobeat horn filling. Its ghostly cosmic coda floats in a moonshine chill. Then there’s the complex Carry Me which matches afro-cuban fluency, rapping reggae beats, dark drones and dance hall dynamism with panache. Still, impressive as these switch-back tunes are, perhaps it’s on the more economic tracks that Muito Kaballa really dazzle.
All This While, which features rising starlet of the Belgian neo-soul scene Reinel Bakole, keeps focus on the song, wrapping the vocalist’s purring tones in a steamy broken beat chug. As things get more urgent the afrobeats shimmy, Bakole’s vocal effortlessly takes it higher and the horn arrangement gets gloriously Jagga Jazzist big. Equally sharp the synth pop tinged Let Go glides smoothly along a twinkling melodic path with Bakole’s breathy vocal drifting between mystery and hope. It’s a piece of contemporary R n B latin-fusion that is up there with any of the blistering new sounds of today’s Rio scene. Then there’s Once I Learned To Walk that sings with Beisel’s indie pop intonation while taking a succulent soca stroll alongside a jaunty cumbia bounce.
Such tracks underline the emergence of the Muito Kaballa sound. This band recognises that great fusion music needs to evolve from itself rather than from the styles that it brings together. ‘Like A River’, like the states of mind it explores, dares not to follow convention and the results are liberating. Muito Kaballa are on a journey that needs to be followed.
Get your copy of ‘Like A River’ by Muito Kaballa from your local record shop or direct from Batov Records HERE