Devendra Banhart emerged seemingly out of nowhere in 2002 with his first CD collection, Oh Me Oh My…The Way the Day Goes By the Sun Is Setting Dogs Are Dreaming Lovesongs of the Christmas Spirit, compiled by Swans frontman Michael Gira from homemade recordings Banhart had amassed as he traveled the world. He was born Devendra Obi Banhart in Houston, Texas, but spent his childhood in Caracas, Venezuela; as a teenager, his family returned to the States, relocating in Southern California. For his Nonesuch Records debut, Devendra Banhart chose the title Mala, literally the Serbian word for “small,” but used colloquially in Eastern Europe as a term of endearment—“like sweetie pie,” Banhart explains. Mala, his eighth studio album, took shape back in his home in Los Angeles, where Banhart resided.
Banhart has embraced an astonishingly wide range of musical ideas, from folk to blues to the avant garde. His career remains “an adventure and an exploration.” Mala reveals a natural maturation of his style, especially as a singer. Banhart admits, “I don’t really take care of my voice, but, just like with playing guitar, you get more familiar with it, and you get better at it. I’ve always said that I’m very good at not knowing how to play the guitar but, really, it’s just that I’m very comfortable with the utter uncertainty of my approach.”
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