On the Very Best’s “Rain Dance,” Featuring M.I.A.


Last year, Malawian pop singer Esau Mwamwaya and the production duo Radioclit linked up for Esau Mwamwaya and Radioclit Are the Very Best, a marvel of a mixtape that ran through versions of everything from Vampire Weekend’s “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa” to M.I.A.’s “Boyz.” The tape reflected a deep familiarity with the various strains of kwaito and kuduro that Vampire Weekend et al were pillaging, plus a global-pop savvy that made them ideal collaborators for M.I.A., whose technique was pretty similar: running global megapop a la Michael Jackson or hip-hop through the musical filter of all the non-Western countries in which that music has large and faithful audiences. And the Very Best didn’t do it from an apartment in Williamsburg but from a whole raft of countries (“Lilongwe – Malawi to London via France & Sweden, United Kingdom,” says MySpace), all of which kicked something unexpected and exhilarating into the remixes and originals that made Esau Mwamwaya and Radioclit Are the Very Best such a unexpected hit last December.

Vampire Weekend’s Koenig and M.I.A. clearly concurred: both are slated for cameos on the Very Best’s new Warm Heart of Africa, due in the fall. The Koenig-featuring title track was posted to TVB’s MySpace last month. It’s maybe too much of an inversion of everyone’s strengths and weakness: the ratio of Koenig’s mannered chirping and cheery guitar stroking is a little high, given that Mwamwaya and Radioclit knock stuff like this out in their sleep, and half the charm of the Very Best’s Vampire Weekend remixes last year was how far out they took the original tracks, not how much they honored the VW originals. But “Rain Dance,” which sports M.I.A., really knocks–a dense, intricately patterned swarm of drums and tiny chopped vocal samples, Mwamwaya and M.I.A. trading complementary melodies, and Maya going in on a satisfyingly deadpan yet emphatic chorus. It’s fire and, with the rest of Warm Heart still to come, surely just the beginning. [h/t Piotr Orlov]