Hailing originally from rural Otago, Jono Heyes formed his own world music group called Mama Yeva – in Dunedin of all places – back in 2007, and has been a global artist of that musical realm since. The decade has seen him play alongside musicians from more than a dozen countries, performing at venues and festivals that promote ecological and social justice around the world.
Even before opening the (recycled cardboard) CD cover there are already numerous aesthetic clues that this album will be a. whimsical; b. worldly; c. acoustic; and d. joyful – and so it proves throughout its border-ignoring 31-minute run time.
Currently residing in the Czech Republic, Heyes creates a genuinely unique blend of uplifting music that is almost instantly familiar for anyone with a taste for WOMAD, or (the best-of) Putumayo-type collections – covering West African, Arabian, South American, Mediterranean and European music. It is in the sheer diversity and easy transitioning over nine tracks that Heyes proves the depth of his composition skills, his finger-picked classical acoustic guitar providing various beds that the multi-lingual vocals make into songs which bridge cultural borders.
‘9 Pilgrims’ includes contributions from two New Zealanders, Trevor Coleman and Carlos Gelling, along with artists from Ireland, Switzerland and the Czech Republic. While that may seem very Euro-centric, the music certainly isn’t.
The mid-way track of nine (hence the ‘9 Pilgrims’) is titled Kia Ora, For Te Whiti, one of several homages to important prophets of the struggle for peace, the album replete with social and political undercurrents.
Standing Rock Children uses piano, ukulele and trumpet, upping the instrumental presence a little, but the whole foot-tapping journey is never more than an evocatively dynamic background to the vocals.
Much of this wonderful album’s charm lies in a sense of casual, un-polished collaboration, resulting in a relaxed yet uplifting half hour of rare musical delight.