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Various Artists: Congotronics 2

Chris May By

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Earlier this year, the Congolese trance band known as Konono No. 1—a Mad Maxian agglomeration featuring ingenious and massive DIY amplification, electronically distorted, outsize likembe thumb pianos, and drum and percussion instruments made from recycled industrial scrap—burst out of Kinshasa to shock and awe the European music scene with Congotronics. It wasn't a jazz album by any means, but it was sufficiently creative, dangerous, and uncompromising to appeal to the experimental margins of the jazz, world, rock, and dance music scenes.

There's more of the mesmerising same, served up with a little more variety, on this excellent second volume in the series, subtitled Buzz 'n' Rumble From The Urb 'n' Jungle, featuring Konono alongside six other Kinshasa trance bands. Masanka Sankayi + Kasai Allstars open the album in bass-heavy, throbbing, neo-Konono style with "Wa Muluendu," and Konono itself shuts things down, more or less apocalyptically, with "T.P. Couleur Cafe."

In between these two monumental slabs of sound are seven tracks of a relatively (repeat: relatively) more subtle nature. Most of the bands have percussion and likembe sections in their back line, and these are variously augmented by up-front bells, balafons, berimbaus, accordions (a retained Europeanism dating back to the colonial era), slit drums, and rumba-meets-something-like-thrash metal electric guitars.

Compared to the smooth, lyrical grooves of the classic Congolese rumba style spawned by Joseph "Le Grand Kalle" Kabasele in the '50s and honed by Luambe "Franco" Makiadi in the '60s, today's Kinshasa trance bands might seem like rough trade coming out of nowhere. In fact, they are simply the latest and most extreme manifestation of a back-to-the-tribal-roots, post-colonial, punk-rumba, roughing-up tradition that started with Zaiko Langa Langa in the '70s and grew more pronounced with Choc Stars and others in the '80s. Konono and its brother/sister bands are an integral part of the dirt-poor Kinshasa suburbs where they find their audience, more or less recently arrived tribal people from the bush and forest, and they serve to keep traditional tribal cultures—and the human spirit—alive in the most desperate circumstances.

As an added bonus, Congotronics 2 includes a 45-minute DVD showing some of the featured bands in rehearsal. The handheld camera sound quality is poor, but the visuals bring the music to vivid contextual life. The dancing—all the groups include dancers—is a thing of wonder in itself. Basokin are fronted by three dancers whose stately yet astonishingly trippy choreography (and makeup) is inspired, quite probably, by divine intervention. Seeing is believing.


Track Listing: Wa Muluendu; Koyile/Nyeka Nyeka; Kiwembo; Kabuangoyi; Soif Conjugale; Le Labourer; Bosamba Ndeke; Mulume; T.P. Couleur Cafe.

Personnel: Masanka Sankayi + Kasai Allstars (1); Kasai Allstars (2,4); Sobanza Mimanisa (3); Kisanzi Congo (5); Masanka Sankayi (6); Bolia We Ndenge (7); Basokin (8); Konono No.1 (9).

Title: Congotronics 2 | Year Released: 2005 | Record Label: Crammed Discs

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