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Kinshasa One Two

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Album Review

At the dawn of the 2000s, Damon Albarn traveled to Mali and made some recordings with a handful of local musicians, later shaped into Mali Music, a curious, casual, satisfyingly undefined collaborative foray that marked the starting point of his continued public fascination with the music of Africa. Ten years later — following a decade that found the incessantly networking Albarn joining forces with many more African musicians through his myriad musical guises (Gorillaz, Blur, the Good, the Bad & the Queen), not to mention releasing the work of several others via his Honest Jon's label — he returned to the continent for a similar project with a considerably grander scope, descending on metropolis of Kinshasa, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, with a veritable army of British and American producers (ten of them, including Actress, Dan the Automator, Jneiro Jarel, and XL Recordings head Richard Russell) to interface with a much larger number of Congolese players and vocalists. What's more, the whole recording process lasted a mere five days. The resulting album (which, like Mali Music, was released as a benefit for Oxfam charities) is as sprawling, messy, and multifarious as you would imagine, a bustling, urban contrast to the sleepy, subdued village feel that prevailed on Mali Music. The difference can be ascribed to the energy of both the Kinshasan musicians and the cutting-edge electronic and hip-hop-oriented Western producers involved, as well as the frenzied, on-the-fly, street-level spirit of the recording experience itself. Strands of funk, house, hip-hop, dub, and techno intertwine freely and loosely with dense, polyrhythmic percussion grooves played on all manner of hand drums, bells, whistles, and scavenged scrap metal instruments (often performed by Bokatola System, who turn up four times) as well as sparser textures featuring thrumming likembes and twangy guitars, and a dizzying array of vocalists who sing, speak, rap, toast, and chant atop it all. (Arguably the most striking track here, a minute-long singsong entitled "Love" and performed by a lightning-tongued rapper/singer of the same name, is entirely a cappella.) Although little if anything here fits neatly into any specific Western genre (the Gorillaz-ish, gently poppy trip-hop of opener "Hallo" — the only track to feature Albarn's vocals, and coincidentally the dullest thing here — comes closest), this is definitely much more of a thorough cultural fusion than any sort of reverent "field recording" project — both Western and African elements are readily audible on every cut, with a somewhat varying but generally quite equal balance of prominence. But that doesn't necessarily mean it's any less respectful of the local musicians and their contributions, nor any less of a resonant depiction of a globalized but nevertheless specific cultural environment. In the increasingly prevalent spirit of similar trans-cultural musical interminglings in recent years, what we get never feels carefully curated, explicated, or tamed but rather refreshingly, bewilderingly alive — an explosive flurry of rhythms, sounds, and voices. ~ K. Ross Hoffman, Rovi

Kinshasa One Two, DRC Music
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