The Mkwaju Ensemble’s life was short-lived, lasting only a year before each member went their separate ways. The group only released two full-length albums in 1981, Mkaju and Ki-Motion.
Each member would later go on to forge their own significant musical careers. Percussionist Midori Takada would move on to create many groundbreaking albums. In 1983 Takada released the minimalist percussion only masterpiece Through the Looking Glass. Through the Looking Glass has without a doubt obtained a cult following and is a holy grail for collectors. On tracks, one and four Joe Hisaishi provides keyboards, composition, and production. Hisaishi did not return for the group’s second record Ki-Motion but instead began to find work in film. In 1983 Hisaishi began working with Studio Ghibli co-founder Hayao Miyazaki. Some of the most beloved and classic Ghibli films feature Hisaishi’s music. Notable films that Hisashi scored include Kiki’s Delivery Service, Porco Rosso, and Spirited Away. Hideki Matsutake takes credit for “computer programming” in the linear notes of Mkaju. Matsutake is best known for being the secret-fourth member of the famed Yellow Magic Orchestra.
The group’s name, “Mkwaju,” is actually a word from the Swahili language and translates to “tamarind”. The tamarind is a type of tree found throughout tropical Africa. Tamarind uses include making furniture, tools, and even musical instruments. Mkwaju Ensemble’s name not only borrowed from the continent of Africa, but their sound did as well. The majority of Mkwaju contains the use of African inspired rhythms. Often on both the mallet percussion and hand drums. Take track number six, “Flash-Black,” is a thirteen-minute hand drum and small percussion jam. “Flash Black” is one of the purest forms of Mkaju Ensemble’s interpretation of African music. Compared to Ki-Motion, Mkwaju is quite upbeat and dance like. “Mkaju” is one of the album’s”dancier” tracks and fits well within the category of proto-house music. Takada and Yoji Sadanari’s vibes and marimba not only hold the task of melody but also loop throughout as hypnotic groves. An array of synthesizers are also melded together with the earthy percussion, an atmosphere similar to that of fourth world music. Overall, The Mkwaju Ensemble combines elements of afrobeat, jazz, and dance, creating one energetic ride.
Listen to the ever playful title track below and download the full-length album.