Occasionally I stumble over fantastic stories about music and musicians. One of those is of Malawian Michael Mountain, or Phiri which is his original Chichewa surname. He is a multifaceted man – a small-scale tobacco and maize farmer and a community organizer as well as a prolific songwriter and heartfelt singer.
In 2011 he met Swedish musician Mattias Stålnacke, who moved to Malawi the year after to set up Moto Wambili Studios to record some of the talents he had met when visiting. The music he recorded is now up for release via his Bristol-based label Spare Dog Records.
The second album, and the first of a couple of reggae sets, is Michael Mountain’s debut Nowhere Else to Go, where he tells stories from the hills and villages of northern Malawi and Lake Malawi. It was recorded mostly together with local musicians and is rooted in reggae and the Rastafari movement and Michael sings about the hardships of life and love; sometimes he gets political and sometimes he is romantic.
Nowhere Else to Go is kind of singer-songwriter reggae grounded in the folk-acoustic tradition. It’s organic and vibrant with infectious melodies and genuine warmth.
This album is traditional, yet something fresh, and far from contemporary European one drop or dirty Jamaican dancehall.