‘As distorted and dirty, and beautiful and funky as James Brown or Fela Kuti. Forget all your preconceptions about African music!’ wrote Britain’s Observer newspaper. And the French magazine Les Inrockuptibles claimed that in terms of sheer unbounded energy there had been nothing quite like it since punk first appeared on the scene. What both were referring to was the music coming from the suburbs of Kinshasha, which has been presented, since 2004, as Congotronics. Behind the catchy appellation is a highly complex form of urban music, which emerged in the Congo over twenty-five years ago. In the 1970s, the ‘orchestres tradi-modernes’ were discovered by French researchers working in the field of music. It was by chance that Vincent Kenis, himself a musician and a producer with the Crammed Discs label, heard a recording by the most prominent ensemble, Konono No. 1 on the radio. Since then, he has been obsessed with the idea of finding the musicians in the Congo. He spent years looking for the father of this style. Then he stumbled upon the Kasai Allstars, recorded the first concerts under most bizarre conditions on mobile 8-track studios, and finally met the masters themselves. This is one of the most exciting discoveries of the past few years – live in Berlin for the very first time: Bolia We Ndenge, Kasai Allstars and Konono No. 1.
Bolia We Ndenge
Home-made instruments, distorted electrically, and Bazomba trance traditions produce boundless energy, which the critics are fond of comparing with Krautrock-Jam and Miles Davis. In the case of Bolia We Ndenge, there is a post-colonial twist to this too: in addition to washboards and improvised drums, they also draw on an ancient accordion, a musical relic from the days of Belgian colonial rule.
Sometimes music helps to overcome political estrangements: the Allstars are the most popular musicians in the vast province of Kasai, which broke up into two camps. Together, they make the most exciting dance music imaginable, in which home-made equipment, xylophones and men’s choirs suddenly sound strangely unfamiliar. A Vorsänger calls out, and rumba-meets-trash guitars are supplemented by inspired choreography.
Konono No. 1
The real inventors of Congotronics are the band around music patriarch Minguiedi. Twenty-five years ago, the virtuoso on the kalimba (the traditional thumb-piano) wanted to make himself heard above the street noise in Kinshasa, so he made himself a kind of PA system, liking used-car parts to the power supply with telephone leads and home-made microphones. In this way, it became possible to honour rituals even in a mega-city. His hypnotic sound combines African rhythms with the energy of punk and the drive of electronic dance music.