Glorious Distortion 

Congolese band Konono No. 1 make party music for new global urbanites

Like the blues musicians who electrified their guitars to compete with the roar of Chicago and Detroit, Konono No. 1 have adapted traditional instruments and material to the urban setting of Kinshasa, the capital of Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Like the blues musicians who electrified their guitars to compete with the roar of Chicago and Detroit, Konono No. 1 have adapted traditional instruments and material to the urban setting of Kinshasa, the capital of Democratic Republic of the Congo. Featuring the distorted buzz of amplified thumb pianos called likembés, ferociously grooving drums and vocals shouted through megaphones, the performances on their album Congotronics have affinities with the electronic gamelan of Four Tet, yet at times they’re as basic and open-ended as the fife-and-drum music of Othar Turner. Like the blues musicians who electrified their guitars to compete with the roar of Chicago and Detroit, Konono No. 1 have adapted traditional instruments and material to the urban setting of Kinshasa, the capital of Democratic Republic of the Congo. Featuring the distorted buzz of amplified thumb pianos called likembés, ferociously grooving drums and vocals shouted through megaphones, the performances on their album Congotronics have affinities with the electronic gamelan of Four Tet, yet at times they’re as basic and open-ended as the fife-and-drum music of Othar Turner. Likembé virtuoso Mawangu Mingiedi, who is now in his 70s, formed Konono No. 1 over 25 years ago. In addition to Mingiedi, the group features two other likembé players, as well as three percussionists and several dancers. The percussionists use a combination of instruments, including a hubcap drum kit. The thumb pianos consist of metal rods attached to resonators, and they’re fed into amplifiers with microphones made from scavenged automobile magnets. Singers use a kind of megaphone called lance-voix, once used by Belgian colonists to diffuse radio broadcasts into the streets of Kinshasa. Congotronics could be described as party music for new urbanites; Konono’s audience is made up largely of recent émigrés to Kinshasa, a raucous city of 7 million people. So while the themes are traditional—they’re based on the trance music of the Bazombo tribe, who live along the Congolese-Angolan border—the execution is brutally modern. “Paradiso” is perhaps the most striking example of Konono’s approach, with its furious drum rolls and an overdriven likembé figure that sounds like someone playing a clavinet through an amplifier that has been tossed out a window. Like the best rock ’n’ roll, Congotronics is best appreciated loud, and it’s probably wise to approach the record piecemeal. The recording quality is superb; producer Vincent Kenis, whose previous credits include Zap Mama’s Adventures in Afropea 1, captured these performances outdoors in Kinshasa with microphones and a laptop, and apart from some bass boosting at the time of mixing, the songs appear here in their pristine state. “Kule Kule” is the group at their most lyrical. The drums lay out, and this is where you can best hear the three likembés in all their distorted glory. “Lufuala Ndonga” features relentless call-and-response vocals, and here the drum attack resembles that of the soukous style even as the performance recalls Miles Davis’ manic “Calypso Frelimo” or a particularly agitated Afro-Cuban rhythm section. Like the best rock ’n’ roll, Congotronics is best appreciated loud, and it’s probably wise to approach the record piecemeal. The recording quality is superb; producer Vincent Kenis, whose previous credits include Zap Mama’s Adventures in Afropea 1, captured these performances outdoors in Kinshasa with microphones and a laptop, and apart from some bass boosting at the time of mixing, the songs appear here in their pristine state. Konono No.1 have toured with The Ex, whose 2004 Turn contains a tribute to the group, and with Tortoise. They plan to play a dozen U.S. dates in November, and while they won’t be appearing in Nashville, they have shows scheduled for Columbus and Dayton, Ohio. For more information, visit the website of their record label, Crammed Discs: www.crammed.be.

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Recent Comments

Sign Up! For the Scene's email newsletters





* required

Latest in Features

More by Edd Hurt

All contents © 1995-2014 City Press LLC, 210 12th Ave. S., Ste. 100, Nashville, TN 37203. (615) 244-7989.
All rights reserved. No part of this service may be reproduced in any form without the express written permission of City Press LLC,
except that an individual may download and/or forward articles via email to a reasonable number of recipients for personal, non-commercial purposes.
Powered by Foundation