Music Reviews
Hera Ma Nono

Extra Golden Hera Ma Nono

(Thrill Jockey) Buy it from Insound Rating - 7/10

Extra Golden and Weird War guitarist Alex Minoff recently dropped a quite intriguing essay concerning what is asked and written about Extra Golden and concepts of authenticity. There's a disparity in the reaction of African and Euro-American audiences to the band, made of two white Americans and two black Kenyans. While perhaps both broad audiences have a curious reaction to such an unconventional line-up, more of an African crowd seems to be able to put it aside and accept the music as entertainment, while more of a Euro-American crowd seems intent on picking knits about "authenticity" and other international pop political questions. It betrays a subtle racism, the fixation upon two white Americans in a band playing music that is obviously very Kenyan, whether taking offence or exalting it, there is some reference to Africa as an alien place and its population comprised mostly of those fictitious magical negroes Spike Lee liked to refer to in movies.

It is not that these thoughts are necessarily malicious to have, even if they do betray some degree of cultural and international myopia (and, yes, racism), where playing with Africans is such a bizarre concept that it must be celebrated or defended rather than accepted matter of factly. Extra Golden, for the most part, make the questions irrelevant in that they've just released their second very good album, Hera Ma Nono, and the collaboration is still positive and unforced. This is not an album to hear a clash between American punk rock and Kenyan Benga, but it is an album by good musicians with a passion for Benga that work with an awareness of that monster called rock.

The band name is accurate, as they have a warm, glowing sound, for the most part very laid back, more akin to the swaying repetitions of the Green Arrows (but even more hammock suitable) than the epic tension and release funk of Fela Kuti (and I'm showcasing my own ignorance of African pop by only coming up with two names from entirely different countries that peaked over 30 years ago). The gracious emotional vibe slathered over Hera Ma Nono is more inspirational considering the death of bandmate Otieno Jagwasi from HIV complicated afflictions. The album is highlighted by a pair of long tracks,Jakolando and Love Hijackers, that leisurely work their way through different moods and passages, exuding a fond and bittersweet memory that infects most of the album. Only on the unfortunately excitable Street Parade does the sunniness and urge to shred lead the band into unrestrained, Dave Matthews worthy Afropap, but then again that one is inevitably what more frat brothers will want to jam to. Africa's pop music is still one of the most amazing and underheard treasure troves, and the fact that there is more dialogue about it is progress. Extra Golden does not deserve to be listened to as an experiment and conversation point, however. They deserve to be enjoyed.