7 November 2016, No. 209, Earth, Wind & Fire, ‘Kalimba Tree (Todd Terje Edit)’

Blame MCC SELFHELP (later Ten Thousand Villages) and relatives with missionary connections to Kenya, Zaire (which is not even a place anymore), and elsewhere in Africa, because as a kid I often came in contact with mbiras on knickknack shelves, and I never thought too much of their potential. Thumb pianos were fun to screw around with, but I don’t think I ever really established a groove. Earth, Wind, and Fire, on the other hand, grew a whole tree’s worth of the things, and Todd Terje is back on our list to quantize and rearrange them.

In fact, lead singer Maurice White bought the trademark for a smaller version of the mbira, this tune’s eponymous Kalimba, after discovering it in the 1970s. Also running through this edit are more of those non-lexical vocables, not nearly as good as the ones in Earth, Wind, and Fire’s too-short (and not on this list) “Brazilian Rhyme (Interlude),” but then those are some of the best vocables, non-lexical or otherwise, ever committed to wax, so at least Maurice White (who died earlier this year) is competing only with himself in that regard. 

The Kalimbas in No. 209, “Kalimba Tree (Todd Terje Edit),” play a lightly syncopated sixteenth-note pattern that gives this mid-tempo song a frantic feeling, especially on top of the long and rather dark bass synth notes. A guitar playing distorted sustains that compete with the synthesizer’s frequencies before they drift into feedback and give way to a ringing sort of riff adds to the endarkened atmosphere.

There’s a slim chance the chants in this tune mean something in some language, but I’m doubtful. “Don’t Look Any Further” by Dennis Edwards gives me pause with its approximation of Swahili, and the “Brazilian Rhyme” refrain might have originated as a reference to the Brazilian state of Bahia, but I’m assuming singing in foreign languages is not what they’re up to here. Give a listen, and you decide.