RealWorld 2001
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Dr. Hukwe Ubi Zawose grew up in Tanzania's arid Doduma region and learned the ilimba, a large thumb piano, and later his father's stringed izeze, before he morphed into a fully fledged traveling village musician. He recalls that "when I was a young man, my voice was so sweet that people would often cry when I sang. In fact, sometimes I would hear myself and cry, wondering what I had done to deserve such a precious gift."

When president Julius Nyerere summoned him to Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania's capital, Zawose's music caught on and he co-founded the Master Musicians of Tanzania, also known as the National Music Ensemble of Tanzania. He developed a new style based on the central Tanzania Wagogo people's tradition. His lyrics are in the Kigogo and Swahili tongues. Being reportedly endowed with a five-octave vocal range didn't hurt his growing popularity either.

RealWorld Records founder Peter Gabriel, a long-standing Zawose fan, recently commissioned Michael Brook -- who had already collaborated on the label's two Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan crossovers Musst Musst and Night Song as well as on Djivan Gasparyan's Black Rock -- to lend his unique producer skills and introduce the African vocalist to a greater audience.

The results? Perhaps the most accomplished crossover between traditional styles and modernist production values, electronic accouterments and arranger's finesse released in a very long time. Certainly 6moons' first Blue Moon music award recipient:

Rollicking and pounding grooves. Supertight overdubbed Latin brass syncopations compliments of Lee Thornberg who performed on the last Vanesse Paradis album. Scintillating thumb piano riffs. A mind-twisting melange of root funk, futuristic world party with strong tribal leanings, topnotch production values, dance sensibilities, and above all, the swooping, jubilant, at times high-pitched, at others earthshakingly sonorous solo vocals of Hukwe backed up by nephew Charles.

When they come at you in full attack mode, it's with the unbridled power of a rampaging bull at single-pointed charge. You're mesmerized. Unhinged mid-tune time-shifting. Pygmy-style choral interludes. Pulsating drum loops. Powerful medicine. Happy. Raw. Exhilarating. The signature Michael Brook infinite guitar washes. Virile grunts. Jungle yodeling. Zap Mama's Marie Daulne mixing it up on "Tricky Voices / Chilumi Kigumu" imitating bird calls. Thumb pianos resonating so hard at times so as to induce metallic overload distortion.

Recalls Michael Brook of one recording session: "Hukwe and Charles indicated they were ready to play. Then they both took off their pants. What the hell? Turns out that the way they were going to play their thumb pianos, the sound holes had to go over the skin of their legs to achieve the desired vibrato."

This kind of authenticity pervades the entire album. It's a massive tribute to producer/arranger Michael Brook's consummate skills. His post-recording contributions -- reportedly involving manifold technical complexities, such as timbre-shifting his overdubs to match the oddly tuned African instruments -- fundamentally enhance the vitality, juice and completeness of Zawose's music. It totally avoids turning it into one of the many half-baked, half-pleasing hybrids that are neither fish nor fowl but plainly recognizable Western pop thinly disguised behind some applied world-something gloss.

Assembly is neither. It's a unique, fully formed animal in its very own right. It's distinctly African, both ancient and looking to the future. It shines a long overdue spotlight on a monster vocalist endowed with the power and glory of a Salif Keita or Cheikh Lo.

To repeat this last point: Honorary musical doctor Hukwe Zawose is a legend in the making. Assembly might just be the flawless vehicle to deliver him to the world at large. While awards mean precious little when pinned to a beating heart pulsating with sincerity, skill and a bounty of gifts, it might prompt you to take this recommendation a little more serious. If you do, make sure you'll be at liberty to pump up the volume and let it rip. Assembly is a funky party you sure don't wanna snooze through for lack of get-up-and-go juice!