Souvenance, Kali Mutsa
by Sam Rodgers
Everyone's favorite "ninety-four year old" Chilean gypsy princess Kali Mutsa, aka Pharaoh Koralle Esperanza del Carmen Pantic, has finally released her first LP, Souvenance, over a year since this reviewer commented on first single "El Jardín." Before we go any further, it must be said that this is divisive artistry. It's unlikely Souvenance will impress those that have not jumped on board Kali Mutsa's particular/peculiar style already, and for those of you who do "get" it - there's much here to surprise, exhilarate, and perplex you even further.
Moving away from the EPs' more cabaret lounge style - easier to digest, left-of-center world music stuff (it always teetered precariously towards that) - Souvenance intimidates, getting right in your face from the beginning and rarely letting up the attention demanding beats for its forty minute run time. This is an album so intent on imprinting its singularity on the listener, it can seem a bit too much to handle. There's no wading in here - the ideas are bubbling over, it's disorientating. Kali Mutsa's vocals are incessant, this is no background dance album; like M.I.A., you better be listening. So aggressively does Mutsa avoid aural sublimity it can be jarring. Nearly every moment on the album needs a second, third, or fourth listen to finally hear a track. It doesn't help there's the semi-annoying prevalence of short tracks, which, with this sort of experimental and explosive jam, feels like sorting through half-baked and burnt ones to find the fully-formed cookies.
And unlike the singles we've heard from Kali Mutsa up until now, there's a lack of blank space on Souvenance - she's turned it up, whether actively discouraging an easy-read pop personality or not. There's only "El Jardín" that connects this album with the rest of her catalog: the mood-changes, the sass, the co-starring fiddle riff, the familiar (and thereby readily likable) structure. So, what works? Kali Mutsa's music is perfect to pull out when you want to impress with a "new sound." Any track fits that bill - go on, insert them into a mix tape, get that double-take - but finding the pleasure points on the album - and treating Souvenance as such, not just a collection of cool new sounds - requires the track to restrain itself to an extent. Second single "Canción de Amor Colla" does this well by providing space to the playful distortion and the gradual build up to a signature bat-shit carnival climax. It's quite possibly one of the best tracks of Kali Mutsa's canon to date.
"Traga Traga" excels at striking the balance between acquired style and originality - borrowing from the Angolan kuduro dance style (and featuring kudurista Francis Boy - who, like his peer Titica, seems to have some beef with Lady Gaga) and then funneling it through the Bollywood flavor Kali Mutsa wears on the album cover art. This hopeful single will make your ass hard and your head wobble. Elsewhere Souvenance takes the listener to a worrisome circus on the Río de la Plata on "El Cuerpo;" through a batucada-infused German discotheque on "Edithcita;" muscly rap over Andean folk on "Sicopompa;" and the almost parody of itself, "Cumbia De Pichi." However, it's not until final track, "Tati Bal Bal (Viento Caliente)," that there's reprieve from the high octane shenanigans of the rest of the album. It gives some much needed gradient to the melodrama - Kali Mutsa can also do a Dance of the Seven Veils, a counterpoint to her explosive witchcraft.