Album Review: Namvula – Quiet Revolutions [NMR Records; 10th November 2017]

The cultural heritage that Quiet Revolutions brings to our ears is incredible, to put it mildly. Since her debut album Shiwezwa, released in 2014, Namvula has blazed a trail both at home and abroad with her impressive array of music fusion, from African styles to Scottish folk. She is a singer-songwriter, photographer, music-making workshop facilitator and much more. Settled in London after living in Switzerland, Kenya, and the US, she celebrates her Zambian (mother) and Scottish (father) roots in collaborations with African percussionists and jazz devotees, such as Led Bib. The profound music waves you can hear in Quiet Revolutions – released by NMR Records – actually break the space between what you might hear as African influenced, European rock, and blues and jazz crossovers.

Both confident and smooth, Namvula’s voice offers us a journey through Zambian landscapes, via laments, prayers and tales about traditional customs. She also effortlessly switches between Zambian, French and English languages in the same song, motivating you to read her music as a message in a bottle cruising around the world’s oceans. Quiet Revolutions blows winds recalling bygone African female singers, Congolese rumba percussionists and Cameroonian musicians. So “Nalile (Little Sorrow)” is a tale song about Zambian women being forced to kill their own newborn girls because they didn’t give birth to a boy, which then evolves into a haven prayer in the light of Nina Simone’s “Blackbird”.

From one track to the next, you hear joyful interactions between marimba and kora, heightened by spiralling saxophone and flute interludes. “Zuba” follows as a whispered and gentle acoustic guitar chant – which is dedicated to Namvula’s niece’s move into womanhood – and continues into a full-bodied rearrangement with African and Cuban jazzy flavours with congas, marimba and saxophone.

Namvula’s guests in the studio sessions include Kadialy Kouyaté (on kora), but she also took on board two of Zambia’s leading folk musicians for a written collaboration. One is James Sakala, who donated his traditional traits of Zambian folk music on tracks “Nine Olimba” and “Nkondo”. Mumba Yachi also brings a Western pop sandblast into traditional sounds in the song “Moto”.

It is how expertly every song approaches cultural tales with fusion music that Namvula and her zealous band of fellow musicians make which remarkably captures our attention. Their humble devotion to joyful and honest music springs out of Quiet Revolutions as a warm smile in London’s chilly autumn weather.