Editors' pick

The Very Best

World
'

Editorial Review

The Very Best has fewer members than most African bands have drummers, and the London-based Afro-electro-pop trio didn't even bring its full complement to its sold-out Monday gig at DC9. But singer Esau Mwamwaya and programmer Etienne Tron had no trouble holding the crowd's attention with a mostly prerecorded set of blithe dance music.

The French-born Tron and his absent partner, Swedish producer Johan Karlberg, met the Malawi-bred Mwamwaya by chance. They collaborated on a mixtape that was heavy on covers and samples, and then made "Warm Heart of Africa," which is mostly synthesized yet emphasizes African polyrhythms and Mwamwaya's sweet tenor. A protracted version of the album's title track was a crowd pleaser Monday night, even though it's a duet with a singer who wasn't there, Vampire Weekend's Ezra Koenig. Also missing was M.I.A, who sings on the album, although the bass line to her "Paper Planes" was prominent in "Tengazako."

If the Very Best is far from a big band, both its music and its presence filled the packed club. Mwamwaya prowled the stage in an olive cap, beaming and calling out "Washington!" Tron occasionally pushed a button or scratched a record, but mostly had his hands free to punch the air and take swigs of beer. The duo was augmented by two bare-midriffed female dancers, wearing jackets emblazoned "TVB."

The smallest aspect of the show was its length: Mwamwaya left the stage after 45 minutes, and Tron quickly switched to DJ mode to drown out grumbling from fans who wanted more.

--Mark Jenkins, Nov. 2009