Friday, June 7, 2013

I'd Love to Turn You On #82 - Various artists – Congotronics 2: Buzz’n’Rumble from the Urb’n’Jungle

One of the (many) things I love about African music is that I’m often asking myself “What the hell IS that?” So when I was first exposed to the “tradi-modern” music of Konono No. 1’s album Congotronics, featuring amplified and distorted likembes (thumb pianos) alongside percussion and vocals in a trance-like music, I was pretty blown away, especially since my previous exposure to the often harp-like music of the thumb piano had left me indifferent. And imagine my surprise when finding that the raw, distorted and heavily rhythmic vibe of Konono No. 1 was only the work of one band within a thriving music scene in Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of the Congo?
And it’s that scene that this release celebrates – 9 tracks of diverse approaches to the same trade-modern sound that Konono No. 1 broke out with internationally. For good measure, a track by Konono No. 1 closes things – a live cut from a Brussels music festival where they clearly blow the crowd away – but they’re only one of the great bands here. Masanka Sankayi joins the Kasai Allstars (themselves the headliners of the third Congotronics release) for the opening cut – a quick 4 minute blast that opens things nicely, followed by another relatively mellow Kasai Allstars cut more in line with a typical track length, though at 7 minutes+ still edited down from the original performance. Then things kick in to high gear with a rough and raw performance by Sobanza Mimanisa, a band featuring only five instruments (where most of these ensembles are larger) but you’d swear there’s more going on when you listen. The group also adds guitar to the mix, which until this point you won’t even realize was absent given all the ringing distortions floating across the sound. Things continue from there, with more appearances by Kasai Allstars and Masanka Sankayi and other, then closing with my favorite trio of the album – the folkier, accordion-lead cut by Bolia We Ndenge “Bosamba Ndeke,” the lengthy, start-stop “Mulume” by Basokin, and the aforementioned closing live track by Konono No. 1.
For me, there’s a terrific variety here even though they all share some of the same sonic characteristics. Each group approaches the rhythm differently, each one contributed varying degrees of noise and/or melody to the mix, and each one, with repeat exposure, carves out their own audio identity. If you’ve never listened to this stuff, do yourself a favor and check it out. I promise you’ve never heard anything even remotely like it, even though the “tradi” part of the name isn’t just a joke, they really are in touch with African musical traditions, they’ve just been adapted to the “modern” part of the name. And as an added bonus, there’s a great DVD included in which you get to watch six bands (five on the CD plus one more not included there) performing live at home in the Congo, replete with full bands and dancers.

- Patrick Brown

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