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Live At Couleur Cafe

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Album Review

Crammed Discs in Belgium issued its third installment of its wildly successful and completely warranted Konono No. 1 recordings. The first was simply called Congotronics; the second, Congotronics 2, focused on a variety of different artists who all use the Congotronics likembe thumb pianos (three tuned at different registers) at the heart of their sounds but play in sometimes wildly divergent styles. This set focuses on a live performance recorded at the Couleur Café in Belgium recorded by Vincent Kenis by the original group of Bazombo musicians, dancers, and singers from the Democratic Republic of Congo. The amazing thing is that this set, which reprises a pair of tunes from the original Congotronics album ("Kule Kule," and "Mama Liza"), doesn't sound a whole lot different in a live setting — making both recordings, ironically, more desirable — the former for its immediacy and rawness, where in addition to the thumb pianos, pots, pans, cheap amps and mikes and homemade drums were utilized. This performance is, if anything, rawer, while being better recorded. In fact, the sounds and songs here focus on just how wild and unhinged the performance itself is and gives us more material. The intro, clocking in at over five minutes, brings in the insistent, forward-charging whistle and percussion cacophony. The singing at the heart, circular, just as the rhythm is — hypnotic even — is actually sung in chant. Moving forward into "A.E.I.O.U.," other singers join in the rhythm orgy and play a sort of call and response with the words. For nearly an hour, this street party takes over the Belgian club — not just the stage — because what's happening in this unruly celebration of tonality, and the engagement of almighty rhythm with language, movement, and musicianship is not primitive at all, but so sophisticated it takes a few moments to get your bearings. Once you do, you will be swept along with the subtle shifts in rhythm, texture, and dynamic. The music is hypnotic in the same way that a sunrise is, in the way the moon shines on the water, as the power and raw, forceful beauty of nature itself is. It should not matter if you have the context of the earlier projects or not — the text in the first volume, or seeing the DVD in the second may ground you a bit more, but this is as good a place as any to start. Konono No. 1 Live at Couleur Café is recorded flawlessly and directly; its mix is hot and unfiltered and meant to be played very, very loud. This CD was nominated for a Grammy award in 2007 for Best Traditional World Music Album.


Formed: 1966 in Kinshasa, Congo

Genre: World

Years Active: '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

Konono No. 1 have combined the spirit of traditional African music with the junk instrument concept and the progressive electronic aspect of modern times. The group's full name was L'Orchestre Folklorique T.P. Konono No. 1 de Mingiedi, "T.P." being translated as "all powerful." (It was also a tribute to the band of the legendary Congolese musician Franco, which was called T.P.O.K. Jazz.) The band was founded by Mawangu Mingiedi, a member of the Zombo or Bazombo ethnic group, whose homeland was located...
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Live At Couleur Cafe, Konono N°1
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