In a perpetual state of disaster as a result of ongoing famine, drought and political corruption, Zimbabwe has still managed to export some of the world's most infectiously joyful music: complex sounds characterized by soaring melodies, intricate vocal harmonies and the kind of polyrhythmic percussion that can induce a collective trance. Boulder's Jaka, which performs an all-ages show at Swallow Hill, Friday, February 13, borrows instrumentation from the former Rhodesian landmass, infusing it with an equally cheerful vibe -- one that transcends mere granola-noshing on Shakedown Street. Multi-instrumentalist co-founders Matt Wasowski, David Schaldach and a guy who calls himself Bones understand Shona culture better than your average rhythm-pinching Yank: After studying under master Zimbabwean musician and ethnomusicologist Dumi Maraire (and performing in the Portland-based ensemble Boka Marimba), the three bounced around New Mexico in the late '90s before introducing their take on pale-faced worldbeat to the Front Range. Playing traditional mbiras, or thumb pianos, seed-filled shakers, steel drums and a pedal-steel guitar (courtesy of Glenn Taylor, a collaborator in both Monkey Siren and Slim Cessna's Auto Club), the band blends electric urban dance music that recalls Afro-pop maestros King Sunny Ade, Johnny Clegg and Thomas Mapfumo. The outfit broadened its scope to include second guitarist Rob Aggabao and the Tembo Horns -- sax player Greg Warren and trumpeter Kirk Knuffke -- for even punchier results. Fluent in Latin, Caribbean, Cuban and African styles, Jaka celebrates everything from drum-based juju to pennywhistle jive. More important, they make a crowded and dangerous planet somehow seem hospitable.
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