In much of Africa and Europe, singer and guitarist Mtukudzi is a star, and his fans include Bonnie Raitt, who has covered his songs. It may be a tribute to American parochialism that he isn't better known here. There's nothing off-putting about his sound, though, which channels traditional sounds of South Africa and his homeland of Zimbabwe in an engaging, modern manner. The ringing tones of the mbira (African thumb piano) are transposed to several effervescent, folky electric and acoustic guitars intertwining over loping rhythms. Mtukudzi sings in a confident, raspy, imploring style recalling Toots Hibbert (of the Maytals) and Otis Redding, and while lyrical content may be moral, the overall effect is heartening without coming across as sloganeering or "anthemic." The guitars' gleaming interplay recalls Los Lobos and the Grateful Dead more than once (especially on "Hope"), and Jairos Hambahamba's idyllic keyboards would be right at home on the Band's Big Pink album. In a world where grown men wear explosive sneakers on airplanes, the global We needs albums like Nhava to remind Us there is beauty amid the madness.
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