Afrobeat from Cologne: Muito Kaballa are more than just their YouTube hit

Foto: © Batov Records
From street music to YouTube stardom: the Muito Kaballa project by Cologne-based musician Niklas Mündemann has landed an internet hit, but they have so much more to offer. Their new album proves it.

Sometimes, the algorithm is good to us. In recent years, it has unearthed some gems. The rediscovery of Japanese composers Midori Takada and Yasuaki Shimizu came to the fore on YouTube, as did Mort Garson’s »Plantasia« and the music of Aksak Maboul. But not only the material of almost forgotten artists from back then, but also new artists are reaching a wider audience through the winding paths of zeros and ones: Yin Yin, Altin Gün—and, most recently, Muito Kaballa.

A busy YouTuber, who seems to be influenced by the work of Argentine author Roberto Bolaño, found their album »Mamari« in the depths of the internet and gave the group a major boost. As of December 2023, almost 700,000 users have clicked, listened, and enjoyed this Afrobeat gem, and definitely also bought it. At least that’s to be hoped for, because monetization has not been easy so far. In an interview, Niklas Mündemann, the band’s founder, composer, and saxophonist, confirms that there was »not a penny!« earned from their small but big YouTube success.

Guerrilla Soundbombing

Still, Mündemann and his collaborators are happy, as it gave the project a boost and, it seems, also helped it to take on its current shape. In the early days, Muito Kaballa was exclusively the one-man thing of Mündemann, who lives in Cologne. Influenced by jazz evenings in a famous old basement club in the cathedral city, the »Stecken«, where the Cologne beat scene instrumental crew around Twit One and Houdini were at home, Mündemann turned to the possibilities of producing. With his experience in jazz, instrumental hip-hop and organic grooves, and especially through the re-releases of important records from the highlife and afrobeat scene, »Everything is Broke«, the actual début album, was created. However, it’s now out of the discography.

The début was released in 2019. Two years earlier, Mündemann had earned his spurs as a street musician. He converted a bicycle trailer into a small concert stage that can be set up in a matter of seconds. At the time, he called it »guerrilla soundbombing«. The fun led to bookings for weddings and street festivals, later real stages and, of course, the début LP. Traces of that time can still be found today. Fine chord progressions of bebop and blues can be heard again and again on the Rhodes piano, underlined by highlife guitars, the beat reminiscent of Tony Allen and co. Brass answers here, bass lines there, an international coolness that now includes Afro-Caribbean sounds and South American rhythms.

Mündemann confirms that the term »synthesis« is very close to his own musical approach. He and his collaborators want to keep collecting, combining, uniting and adding new things. This explains the development of the whole project, which has opened up considerably since »Mamari«, whose roots in Afrobeat were much more pronounced. Their current album is an important milestone in this process: »Like A River« also reflects the attempt to find and shape their own sound. A development that had already begun on »Little Child«. The songs »Memories« and the title track were definitely groundbreaking.

Muito Kaballa are far from being a YouTube one-hit wonder.

This process also involves a development within the band. A development of arrangement, where the band becomes more and more self-sufficient as they get to know each another better, but also of song writing: there have always been and will always be pieces that bassist Luna Weise contributes. In addition, Benjamin Schneider —guitarist— has contributed a song for the first time: »Once I’ve Learned«, reveals Mündemann.  However, the unfairness of the algorithm is that success cannot be easily reproduced, which is why not all of the 700,000 listeners will notice this super interesting growth of the band. The new album is well worth listening to, because Muito Kaballa are far from being a one-hit YouTube wonder. Quite the opposite, in fact: something great is happening here.