It's surprisingly tough to find musical collaborations between Western and African musicians that aren't stiff-sounding, no matter how well-intentioned they are. Cross-cultural/cross-continental experiments that work together syncretically and beautifully — that bring out the best in their respective genres while hinting at new ones — are rarer still. Extra Golden's first album OK-Oyot System, recorded in 2004, was such a work — up there with the Ex's live work with Ethiopiques star Getatchew Mekurya, the underrated Mali Music album (Damon Albarn's collaboration with Afel Bocoum, Toumani Diabaté and others), and the collaborations between Roy Ayers and Fela Kuti.
The group formed when Ian Eagleson (a musicology student at Oberlin infatuated with the sinuous Benga music of Nairobi and Kenya and member of the post-rock band Golden) met Kenyan musician Otieno Jagwasi. Otieno was in a band called Orchestra Extra Solar Africa with percussionist Onyango Wuod Omari. Joined by Eagleson's Golden bandmate Alex Minoff, who was visiting from D.C., the quartet recorded a cluster of songs together.
Unfortunately, Jagwasi passed away in May, 2005. For Hera Ma Nono, which in the Kenyan dialect of Dholuo means "love in vain," the group continued without their original singer. In his place is Otieno's brother — the drummer and singer Onyango Wuod Omari — and the well-known Benga singer and guitarist Opiyo Bilongo. The album has the same spirit as its predecessor, though it understandably dips into more ruminative and melancholy parts. In spite of such sadness, this is lovely music. It's easy to get lost inside it, especially the longer tunes "Love Hijackers" and "Obama," an ode to the magnetic Illinois senator who helped the group procure visas.