Stella Chiweshe Double Check

Chiweshe, along with Thomas Mapfumo, is the greatest exponent of the mbira (thumb piano) music of Zimbabwe. This double disc is composed of "Classic Hits” on disc two and "Trance Hits,” which is a new recording. "Classic Hits” is composed of highlights of her discs for the Piranha label recorded from 1987 to 2002. For some, these songs are the very definition of monotonous Afro-pop due to the similarities in the happy chord changes and the repetitious nature of the tunes. That would be unfortunate, because the bass and drum patterns are absolutely on point and would have had no problem rocking the Paradise Garage circa 1982. Even better is disc one, which dispenses with the Western rhythm sections entirely and reorients the repetition in more hypnotic settings. Layer upon layer of mbiras and shakers are piled on one another to create a totally hypnotic atmosphere. The undisputed highlight is the lysergic bliss of "Mhandu Ye Hove” with its simultaneous up and down cadences of mbiras and dub effects. This is one of the best songs I’ve heard so far this year. Guitar only makes one appearance on this disc, the somnambulant minimalist "Vana Varikuchema” is nine minutes of one guitar figure, shakers and bass-y percussion mixed way up front. The guitar sounds like the Velvets in a good mood, while the percussion offers legato bass pulses to your brain stem. If you’re looking for something to mix into after you’ve spun Konono, this may not have the same breakneck pace, but it’ll definitely work. (Piranha)