Are they a joke, these crazy Brits who pretend they’re all named Mustapha?
Well, no — although they’d like the world to believe they come from a mythical village somewhere in central Asia. They’re not a joke because they can play, in just about any ethnic style and using any set of instruments you’d care to name. Singer Lavra Mustapha is herself almost a multi- instrumentalist: She sings — with two distinct voices and easygoing flair — in Hindi, French, Spanish, Swahili, Greek, and Macedonian. And as the album proceeds, the Mustaphas mix everything up. They add a conga drum and sonorous strings to ”Sitna Lisa,” a tune from some eastern European countryside; they add banjo and trombone to ”Mama O,” a lightly wailing tune that might once have been African.
But of course they make jokes (would any wholly serious group call an album Heart of Uncle?), the point maybe being to parody our stereotypes of distant musical cultures. Though when they issue a press release written on purpose in comically poor English, don’t they cross the line into parody of those cultures themselves?
And there’s one more thing: Why can’t they uncork their music just a little more wildly? Maybe in live performance they do. But for a band whose motto is ”Forwards in all directions!”, they sound surprisingly clean and restrained. B