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Chris Berry & Panjea

Dancemakers

(Wrasse; US: 18 Apr 2006; UK: Available as import)

I was genuinely excited about hearing this release.  The background story shows promise: southern Californian white kid travels to Zimbabwe, picks up mbira (thumb piano), and studies under a spirit healer and mbira master for 10 years.  He returns to the U.S. in order to “bring peace through music” and “fight racism with love”.  Chris Berry has an inspiring mission and his travels are interesting, but, to be frank, the resultant music is day-glow crap.  Dancemakers attempts an uplifting mishmash of hip-hop beats and groovy vibes over a world-music pastiche.  It fails spectacularly.  “Are You Ready?” might boast the couplet “music is the medicine/ world is the patient/ we are the doctors,” but the song’s techno-pseudo-soul packs as much punch as a placebo.  Lyrics throughout the album are largely cockamamie, uninspired bumper stickers.  To wit: “we can all stand tall/ no matter how big or small” and “why do we kill people who kill people to show people that killing people is wrong?”  Berry’s backing band, Panjea, often overwhelm the delicate sound of his mbira with reggae clichés, brass bursts and big bass.  Title track “Dancemakers” is consumed by a drum ‘n’ bass template and, throughout the album, over-produced R&B-tinged background vocals provide meagre soul to Berry’s reedy singing.  Leadoff track “Love on the Mountain” features the refrain of “Shine! Shine! Shine!”—but the album certainly fails to do so.  Looking for exceptional Zim artists?  Check out modern-day mbira masters Thomas Mapfumo and Chiwoniso Maraire instead.

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