Unlike Paul Simon, Paul McCartney never had a Graceland moment. Perhaps there’s some psycho-cultural reasoning behind it all, but perhaps the idea that McCartney always had a kaleidoscopic melange of musical influences suits it best. Yet Band on the Run has a significant backstory as “the one McCartney recorded in Africa”. However the location of Lagos, Nigeria, was more on the aims of escaping traditions than highlighting old ones.
There are two further anecdotes that obscure worldliness from Band on the Run’s overall sound. One was the oft-noted story of McCartney being mugged coming back from the ramshackle studio with all of the demo tapes in his possession. The other is even more curious; Fela Kuti, by then a well known Afrobeat prodigy, had taken it upon himself to publicly accuse the band of exploiting African music (a similar accusation would befall Paul Simon 13 years later). In response, McCartney invited Kuti to listen to the songs being made at the studio and promised to not use any local session musicians. Still, either as an expression of gratitude, or prevailing influence, “Mamunia” would become the one McCartney foray into African music.
For a man whose lyrics have often been tossed aside as too simple or without meaning, “Mamunia” seems to disprove both. An anglicized approximation of “Mamounia”, the Arabic term for “safe haven”, “Mamunia” is parts an ode to nature and humanity (a narrative that McCartney had approached before in “Mother Nature’s Son”). The rain being both good for the earth, and in the metaphorical sense the harder times that everyone goes through in life. The realization of one’s place, and to be able to embrace it, is what McCartney means by safe haven.
Musically, “Mamunia” is incredibly warm with tightly constructed harmonies, a loping punchy bass line, and a brightly compressed acoustic guitar line, the likes of which could be traced back to “I Will”. McCartney also keeps things interesting by subtle key changes, altering between A major for the refrain and C major for the verses without sounding abrupt.
Lost in the shuffle of McCartney’s effortless melodicism, a term surprisingly used throughout McCartney’s career as qualified detriment, is his ability with arranging harmonies. Even with those less qualified than his former band members, his popular songs in the 70’s would reflect ambitious group harmonies (“Silly Love Songs” is a prime example), on “Mamunia” the harmonies glide between strong unison backing and vocal rounds without skipping a beat.
Yes, it’s an obvious choice for chronicling McCartney’s signature optimism, but “Mamunia” is a singular treat in McCartney’s catalogue, and a strong showing that the man was capable of whatever genre he put his mind to.