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Congotronics

Konono N°1

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Album Review

This amazing record is the product of utility, coincidence, and accidental discovery as much as it is a product of academic deliberation, and it manages to sound old and traditional even as it is refreshingly (even radically) new and avant-garde. Konono No. 1 was formed in the 1980s by a group of Bazombo musicians, dancers, and singers from the Democratic Republic of Congo to play traditional likembe (thumb piano) music in the streets. They soon discovered, though, that they needed amplification to be heard and — this is where the story of this album really begins — they took a DIY and utilitarian approach by building their own amplification systems out of junked car parts, magnets, and other flotsam. Once assembled, the system produced a huge hum that Konono No. 1 embraced as part of the sound of the group. At the center of everything were three amped-up thumb pianos tuned to three different registers, and coupled with all manner of pots, pans, whistles, and brake drum snares for percussion and with the vocals blasting through megaphones, all embedded in the huge buzz and hum of the homemade PA system, the group accidentally created a sound that was at once both ancient and traditional and yet eerily akin to experimental 21st century electronica. Congotronics is Konono's second album (the first was a live outing entitled Lubuaku), and while it was ostensibly recorded in a studio setting, it sounds wonderfully live and immediate, as if the dozen members of the group were standing on a busy street corner like some Congolese version of a second-line Mardi Gras band, only with thumb pianos instead of horns. Musical themes emerge and reemerge in the various tracks, and what sounds initially chaotic and random is revealed to be nothing of the sort, giving the whole album the feel of a ragged, joyous suite. Part traditional, part African rhumba, part smart avant-garde electronica, Congotronics is the sound of an urban junkyard band simultaneously weaving the past and the future into one amazingly coherent structure, and not only that, you can dance to it. This is the band Tom Waits has been looking for all his life.

Customer Reviews

NY Times Best of the Year Pick

Jon Pareles of the New York Times rated this #9 in the top 10 best albums of the year (12/25/05 issue).

Biography

Formed: 1978 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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Congotronics, Konono N°1
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