Album review - Idris Elba presents mi Mandela - Idris Elba

The album feels like a labour of love that Elba approached with an appropriate degree of humility.
Idris Elba Presents Mi Mandela CD cover. AP Photo / Warner Bros Records
Idris Elba Presents Mi Mandela CD cover. AP Photo / Warner Bros Records

Idris Elba Presents mi Mandela

Idris Elba

(Parlophone)

Three stars

Playing Nelson Mandela in 2013’s theatrical release, Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, clearly struck a chord with the British actor Idris Elba – a musical one. On Idris Elba Presents mi Mandela, a 14-track project on Elba’s own 7wallace imprint, the actor offers an uplifting journey, inspired by Mandela and his own late father. The music incorporates a variety of South African rhythms and styles, including marabi, kwela, mbaqanga and mbube, mixed in with western sounds. Elba largely wrote the album on a keyboard and laptop during the filming of Long Walk to Freedom, but it’s far from a solo venture. The opening track, the lilting Aero Mathata, blends vocals from the famed mbaqanga group Mahotella Queens with the producer Aero Manyelo’s Afro-tech beats. So Many People, featuring the British actor-singer Shaun Escoffery, melds light African rhythms with 1970s-style Isaac Hayes soul.

There’s a warmth and joy that flows through these tracks, even when Elba is addressing death. The lovely Tree, featuring singer-songwriter Audra Mae and neo-soul singer Cody ChesnuTT, stresses the continuity of family even after the patriarch is gone. “Although his chair is empty, his love will always be at home,” Mae sings against a lilting African melody. Similarly, on the lullaby-ish Hold On, featuring Thabo and George the Poet, death brings only a temporary separation between loved ones.

Elba steps behind the mic throughout, especially on mi Mandela, a largely spoken piece that amusingly recounts his adventures playing Mandela.

It’s always tempting – and somewhat cynical – to dismiss efforts by actors such as this as vanity projects, but mi Mandela feels more like a labour of love that Elba approached with an appropriate degree of humility. He smartly surrounds himself with a stellar cast of artists here, even including a cover of Mumford & Sons’ Home to round out this enjoyable and compelling album.

artslife@thenational.ae

Published: January 5, 2015 04:00 AM

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