Remember a year or two ago when everyone was talking about the Danish concept of hygge, that aesthetic based around the concept of coziness and wool sweaters and fireplaces? It was mostly a marketing ploy, to be sure, but it spoke to the human love for simple comforts and genuine warmth, and long after people forget what hygge is, they will long for those things.
They should, then, look no further than Monoswezi’s A Je, a gentle album full of earthy acoustic music with a loving global feel to it. Made up of members from Mozambique, Norway, Sweden, and Zimbabwe (the group’s name comes from the first few letters of each nation), Monoswezi combines Scandinavian and African influences into what could loosely be called jazz, but which goes well outside the box of what most people think jazz is. In fact, Monoswezi travels far beyond the group’s quartet of homelands on this latest album, incorporating the Malian ngoni, the Indian harmonium, and the African-American banjo into the seamless mix of musical styles.
Opening track “Loko U Muka” starts off with a string of slow, uplifting harmonium notes that emulate the ecstatic spirit of the Sufi qawwali musical form, albeit in slow motion. Soon, banjo and mbira join in, and the piece unfolds in a sunrise of sweet harmonies, setting forth a path of positive vibes for the rest of the album. Monoswezi heads straight down that path with pieces like title track “A Je”, where saxophones underscore a steadily moving tune, and hypnotic “Nyuchi”, where the singers of Monoswezi come together in a cheerful chorus. It all culminates in “C’est Comme Ça” at the end of the album, a rhythmic dance track that lets all the instruments get heavy as they reach a satisfying conclusion.
Monoswezi never treads into any discord or strangeness on A Je. Where the group does surprise is in its ability to combine so many elements from so many places into an uncontroversially lovely whole, to pull instruments from four continents and make music that sounds as natural as the seas that flow between them. Malian guest musician Sidiki Camara undoubtedly makes this transcontinental exchange an easier one; his calabash and ngoni offer tones that are delicate enough to mesh with every other instrument and voice on the recording. Few instruments evoke starlight like the harp-like ngoni, and in the multicultural context of Monoswezi, it’s a reminder that no matter how far you travel on Earth — from Mozambique and Zimbabwe to Sweden and Norway and back again — the same light shines down all across the planet.
Ultimately, A Je does not work to challenge your ears or your mind with the kind of experimentation often associated with jazz, the kind that requires hard work to appreciate on a purely sensory level. Instead, Monoswezi plays music for the open mind, each piece part of a euphonious whole, different backgrounds coming together to tell a fresh, new story.