A promising rather than fully satisfying album...
Jon Lusk 2008
This Rotterdam-based Mozambican singer/songwriter's international debut kicks off in style with a salvo of three impressive tracks. Thereafter, it seems to go in and out of focus, at times struggling to maintain interest. A combination of patchy song-craft and too many styles leaning a little too heavily on his influences leaves you at times wondering just who Neco Novellas is.
His real name is Anselmo J. Johanhane, and he says in the press release that the lovely a cappella title track was influenced by the singing of South African refugees, which is easy to appreciate. The following Vermelha is a successful fusion of Brazilian samba and Mozambican pop, considerably enriched by guest vocalist Lilian Vieira of Zuco 103. And the lightly skipping Afro-jazz funk of Zula Zula showcases Novellas' family band at their best.
It's only on Phumela that things begin to unravel, with Graceland-era Paul Simon a more than obvious role model. The hammy English-language vocal and trite lyrics of Swile Navo will make you wish he’d stick to Xangana, Chopi, Portuguese or any of the other languages he sings in, but things don't improve when it mutates into reggae clichés. And does the world really need another song like Afikile Africa? (''It's time Africa/It's time for you to rise up and show your beauty…'')
The Train takes a leaf or two out of the Hugh Masekela songbook (''Stimela!'') but is tastefully done, and the swelling Tikona and O Sol are more impressive still, the kind of lush world/jazz fusion that seems to be this artist’s default setting – when he isn't being distracted by other music he admires. Finally, it might have been nice to hear more songs like the sprightly triple-time of Zuma Lei, written in the marrabenta style most commonly associated with Mozambique.
After nearly an hour, the inevitable conclusion is that, though not without its merits, Ku Khata would have benefited from more judicious editing – say, ten or eleven tracks rather than fourteen. It's a promising rather than fully satisfying album, so maybe a firm-handed producer (rather than Novellas himself) is what's needed next time around.