‘Dirt is Good’: Malawi Mouse Boys have soul

DIRT IS GOOD – MALAWI MOUSE BOYS (INDEPENDENT RECORDS)

They may have adapted their homemade guitars to fit amplifiers, but the Malawi Mouse Boys haven't lost the ramshackle inventiveness that charmed the crowd at last year's Womad festival.

It's a year on from their debut, He Is #1, and "He" is still the heart and substance of the music; the Mouse Boys are fundamentally a gospel group, whose foremost aim is to praise the one they credit as "Jesu".

His accolades still pour forth from their lyrics, to the swelling optimism of the group's ukulele-like guitars, offset by the kind of vocal harmony that only comes from a lifetime of singing partnership.

Jesus – as Sam Cooke or Otis Redding would have known – seems somewhat out of place amid the rich traditions that give the Mouse Boys their African pulse.

But the group is reclaiming gospel and all its religious associations, and Dirt Is Good personalises a style assumed untouchable thanks to the perfections of the aforementioned African-American singers, creating something that is unique to the Mouse Boys' patch.

Not bad for a crew who used to eke out a living selling the barbequed rodents on sticks from which they took their name, although the practice, which seems to epitomise a hand-to-mouth existence, has a long history in the country.

Clyde Macfarlane
Music and travel writer @GuardianTravel, @SonglinesMag, @MailandGuardian and @TheQuietus. New poetry book out: Across New Zealand in 140 Hitches Clyde Macfarlane has over 342 followers on Twitter.
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