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?
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
- Patrick Brown