Saturday, July 22, 2006

Konono No.1 and Bjork

A confession: If something says "world music" in the description I rarely bother to listen. I should really break this habit, because Konono No. 1 is an example of something genuinely groundbreaking coming out of that all-encompassing and generally dull genre of "world music."

Turns out that the unique lo-fi-Afro-electro-ambient project recorded with Bjork last month. There are no release plans yet, but this sounds promising.

So who are Konono No. 1? I'll let their PR guy and a New York Times writer do the work for me:
Konono No. 1 was founded over 25 years ago by Mingiedi, a virtuoso of the likembe (a traditional instrument sometimes called "sanza" or "thumb piano", consisting of metal rods attached to a resonator). The band's line-up includes three electric likembe (bass, medium and treble), equipped with hand-made microphones built from magnets salvaged from old car parts, and plugged into amplifiers. There's also a rhythm section which uses traditional as well as makeshift percussion (pans, pots and car parts), three singers, three dancers and a sound system featuring these famous megaphones.

The musicians come from an area which sits right across the border between Congo and Angola. Their repertoire draws largely on Bazombo trance music, but they've had to incorporate the originally-unwanted distorsions of their sound system. This has made them develop a unique style which, from a sonic viewpoint, has accidentally connected them with the aesthetics of the most experimental forms of rock and electronic music, as much through their sounds than through their sheer volume (they play in front of a wall of speakers) and their merciless grooves.
NY Times:
The band plays curious instruments that resemble children's toys; its cymbals look like smashed hub caps; its sound is harsh and otherworldly. But what really makes "Congotronics" (Crammed Discs), the debut album by the African band Konono No. 1, one of the most startling of recent world-music releases - and drawn comparisons to the German electronic-music pioneers Kraftwerk and the reggae producer Lee Perry - is the amplification system the band has used for the last 30 years.

Konono No. 1, a 12-piece group led by the septuagenarian Mawangu Mingiedi, performs in outdoor cafes in Kinshasa, Congo. To make its traditional trance music heard above the roar of the traffic-choked streets, it amplifies its toylike likembes, or thumb pianos, using pick-up microphones made from the magnets in car alternators and loudspeakers left behind by Belgian colonists in 1960. The squalling feedback this lo-fi system produces is worked into the polyrhythmic drumming and call-and-response chanting to create a brutal, neotraditional genre Kinshasa's musicians call tradi-moderne.

"When I encountered it, I thought it was the equivalent of punk music in Africa," said Vincent Kenis, a Brussels-based producer who first heard Konono No. 1 on a French radio station in 1980. "From then it took me 10 years to go to Kinshasa and look for them and another 10 years to find them." He finally tracked down the band in 2000 and discovered it sounded just as it had 20 years before: no equipment had been replaced.

"Congotronics" was recorded outdoors using an Apple laptop and a handful of microphones, and was mixed in Mr. Kenis's hotel room with members of the band. It has sold 15,000 copies worldwide, a respectable number for such an esoteric record, and will be released in the United States on June 28; the band has embarked on its first tour of Europe, with the United States to follow in November. Electronic-music devotees have raved about "Congotronics" on the Internet, while some world-music fans remain suspicious. "They say this is rock and not traditional African music," Mr. Kenis said. "They don't believe it. But the public that doesn't care about African music immediately catches on to this music. African music is not only pretty voices recorded in Europe and America. It can also be very violent and very special and very inventive." - Andy Pemberton
I think the "equivlent of punk music in Africa" line is the best description I've heard.

Konono No. 1- Lufuala Ndonga


At 3:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Crammed Disc Konono release is pretty OK, but NOT their first release [as falsely claimed on Crammed Disc site]. Dutch-based Terp records released a live CD, recorded when they toured with The Ex early 2003, which really captures the raw intensity of this unique group's sound.

Recorded live at Vera, Groningen 5th February 2003

Details and mp3 clip here...

Buy online here...


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