'Keeping the Dream' Album Review

'Keeping the Dream' Album Review
Louis Mhlanga and Eric van der Westen are a unique duo of musicians who bring European, African and jazz styles together in ‘Keeping the Dream’. This album will be found in World Music or International categories as the mixture of the sounds is difficult to classify.

Louis Mhlanga was born in Harare, Zimbabwe in 1956. He is a self-taught guitarist who drew inspiration from the Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, Deep Purple and the Beatles. Although he recorded his first tracks and album in the 1970s, his music wasn’t fully appreciated until the early 1990s. Since then this talented guitarist has collaborated with artists across Africa and the world including Nigerian King Sunny Ade and renowned South African musicians and songwriters such as Sipho Hotstix Mabuse, Hugh Masekela, Vusi Mahlasela and Ray Phiri.

In the late 1990s Louis taught African guitar in The Netherlands. Here he met Eric van der Westen. They wrote, played and recorded together and this album showcases their sound. It is a fusion of their different cultural backgrounds, upbringing and ancestry. They wanted their music to cross ethnic borders and the sound produced is an eclectic mix of traditional African sounds with wonderfully modern jazz rhythms.

‘Keeping the Dream’ was released in 2004 and gives one a sense of Louis’ experience, not only in the music industry, but in his life - the understanding and peace we find as we get older and discover our place in the world. The album has 12 tracks. Each one is different, but there is a thread of similarity in the beat and the rhythm that runs through them all.

Track 5, Mai Rugare (which means ‘Goddess of Fortune’) is upbeat, and yet maintains the theme of simplicity. Many of the other tracks have a lullaby feel with the intricacy of the African sound – calming, clear and uncomplicated. The melodic feel penetrates the jazz undertones. The skill of the musician brings alive the authenticity of the guitar and one can hear southern and western African echoes woven into the mix.

For most of the album it is hard not to find yourself tapping your toe and the music dances a pattern that is easy to follow. This expresses the joy these two musicians feel when creating and playing the music. There is soul. There is feeling. There is an air of playfulness.

As their music became more popular, they have been in demand and have traveled and performed around the world. Life on the road was at times difficult, but the duo used the mantra of ‘keeping the dream’ to keep them going. This album is an expression of their faith in their music.

It is clear that Louis Mhlanga and Eric van der Westen love music. They are passionate about the world becoming a better place, free of cultural intolerances and that life will improve for everyone, everywhere. Their dream is that their music and this album will cross the cultural divide and bridge ethnic intolerances. On ‘Keeping the Dream’ you can hear Louis on the steel string acoustic guitar, the electric guitar and on lead vocals and Eric accompanies him with the double bass and backing vocals.

This album brings peace to often more lively African beats, and the understated sound expresses the warmth of the African people and love and passion Louis and Eric feel for their music and their cultures.

This CD was purchased by me with my own funds.

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