King Of Me - Chris Berry
Kanaga System Krush
If I was dropped on a desert island with two of Zimbabwe’s sacred Shona instruments, the mbira and the marimba, I would probably spend more time learning to play the mbira (or as it’s often referred to, the ‘thumb piano’). Its tone is pure and magical while the rattle and buzz of the marimba, albeit quaint and soulful, ultimately strikes me as sounding poorly constructed. Personal preferences aside, Chris Berry’s electric mbira arrangements on his album, ‘King Of Me’ are a real treat for fans of the instrument and contemporary global music. The California-raised, Grammy-winning singer/songwriter was tutored by influential African drummer, Titos Sompa at the age of 15. That led to a journey which turned into a ten year immersion in the street life of Zimbabwe during the turbulent Mugabe regime. Living amongst the Shona people he learned the 21 key idiophone during all-night mbira ceremonies. Encouraged by his teachers to nurture his own compositions, he went on to form Afro/Urban outfit, Panjea. Today he performs alongside the most noted in business, innovating not only mbira-based music, but the instrument itself, adding an additional 16 keys for a total of 37 notes, and electrifying it through a complex series of built-in pickups. A capable singer with a distinctive hip hop swagger, Chris applies a positive, pro-active and definitely global perspective to his lyricism that suits the percolating African-flavored melodies. Holding down the all-important polyrhythm is Ivorian kit player, Abou Diarrassouba (Alpha Blondy, The Mighty Diamonds, The Wailers). Beautiful West African female voices chime in from Awa Sangho and Deja Solis. Even Brazilian Girls’ rhythm section (Aaron Johnston and Jesse Murphy) get in on the act, co-producing a couple of the disc’s standout tracks including the impassioned cry for those who suffer overlooked as ‘The Other Ones’; “I lay down by a river of tears, and I add mine.” It was a pain he knew too well during his time in Zimbabwe. The opener, ‘Leave It’ sets the tone and tempo for the engaging King Of Me with a call to let negativity drown itself. Chris Berry floats above with this buoyant release.