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Wadada Leo Smith/Thomas Mapfumo: Dreams and Secrets

Whenever two bands come together for a collaboration, usually one will dominate. On Dreams and Secrets the edge goes to Zimbabwean singer Thomas Mapfumo and his percussion-based Blacks Unlimited ensemble, but make no mistake: trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith’s avant-jazz outfit N’Da Kulture certainly puts its mark on the music.

Those only familiar with Smith’s organic, mild-mannered jazz extractions will be surprised to hear his electric band, N’Da Kulture, which features flame-throwing guitarist Henry Kaiser and Woody Lee Aplanalp in this incarnation. The collaboration integrates Smith’s new-era fusion with Mapfumo’s nontraditional Zimbabwean music, which he calls chimurenga (“music of struggle”).

A revolutionary in politics and music in Zimbabwe, Mapfumo has been making records for international labels since the late 1970s. With Smith and his band, Mapfumo’s music sounds even more revolutionary, especially the wild brandishing of Kaiser and Aplanalp who cut through the African percussion and mbira (thumb piano) rhythms that the music is based around. The resulting sound is a pulsating mix of Delta blues, Miles Davis funk and African pop that is more world beat than jazz.

Mapfumo’s innovative vocals, his backing singers and the percussionist’s rhythmic charge make Blacks Unlimited an exciting, intoxicating band. Mixed with Smith’s tenacity on the trumpet, plus his ability (and his band’s) to throw out some mean improvisation makes this album an unforgettable journey into uncharted waters that these 21 musicians steer through quite well.

Originally Published