Album Remarks & Appraisals:
"Once in a while an album comes along which is so insanely wonderful that - jazz or not - it needs to be brought to the attention of this community. Such an album is Congotronics by Kinshasa trance band Konono No.1.
Unless you live in Kinshasa, or were at Amsterdam's Paradiso club last year for the recording of track five, you are unlikely to have heard anything remotely like this throbbing slab of mutant roots meet lo-tech/hi-decibel electronica heaven ever before in your life. And trust me, if you've got open ears, you probably will want to get it in your life.
Konono No.1 was founded 25 years ago by Mawangu Mingiedi, a virtuoso of the likembe (aka sanza or thumb piano), who had recently arrived in Kinshasa from the Bazombo area on the Congolese/Angolan border, and who wanted to keep Bazombo trance music alive - for his tribal ancestors, for himself, and for the many thousands of other Bazombo emigrants who were arriving in the metropolis. The dirt poor suburbs of Kinshasa have been the band's patch ever since, the forum for block parties which rock and pound through the night, and they have led to some unique mutations in the music which, by accident, connect it with the aesthetics of Western avant-rock and electronic dance music....
Finding it necessary to amplify his likembes in order to make them heard over the noise of the city streets, but lacking any cash with which to buy imported equipment, Mingiedi was obliged to improvise: he built pickups from magnets salvaged from old car parts and plugged them into banks of homemade amplifiers powered by car batteries (mains electricity not being available in Kinshasa's suburbs); augmented traditional percussion with found scrap metal constructions; and - lacking microphones - had his vocalists shout their lyrics through reclaimed colonial-era megaphones known as "lance-voix" or voice-throwers.
The makeshift electronics worked, in the sense that they made the music audible in the noisiest street environment (and then some), but they also produced a host of sonic distortions. Finding he couldn't eliminate the distortions, Mingiedi - in a stroke of genius - rolled with the punch and began proactively to incorporate them into the band's sound, where they remain a feature today.
They don't call this trance music for nothing. Played loud, like it's meant to be, it will take you to another sphere. Heavily amplified bass, tenor, and treble likembes throb and weave in and out of each other; traditional and found drums and percussion deliver irresistible visceral grooves; and the amplification's sonic distortions frequently give the music the character of cutting edge Western electronica. This is dance/trance music you can with equal pleasure move to or sit down and get caned by. Truly fantastic stuff, in a Mad Max/The Matrix Reloaded futuristic stylee." -AllAboutJazz
Alternative Press (p.160) - "[A] kind of crudely supercharged traditional music that's every bit as punk as the Pogues."
The Wire (p.41) - Included in The Wire's "2005 Rewind: 50 Records Of The Year."
Q (Magazine) (p.153) - "An exhilarating fusion of raw electronics and Central African rhythms masterminded by Mawangu Mingiedi -- a Congolese thumb-piano virtuoso..."
Mojo (Publisher) (p.60) - Ranked #22 in Mojo's "The 50 Best Albums Of 2005" - "Play it loud 'til your ears bleed."
Audio Mixer: Vincent Kenis.
Recording information: Halle De La Gombe, Kinshasa, Congo; Paradiso, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.
Photographer: Vincent Kenis.
If necessity has proven to be the mother of invention, Konono No. 1--a group of Congolese street performers who utilize homemade electronic instruments--may have inadvertently birthed a new category of music: "Scrapheap Electro." While that tag could be taken as slightly pejorative, it's actually merely descriptive. CONGOTRONICS is the international debut of the long-running Kinsasha-based group whose musical modus operandi is rooted in a simple utilitarian need for amplification. Transforming junkyard flotsam such as magnets from disused car parts into microphones and loudspeakers, the rag-tag ensemble creates hypnotic, enthrallingly dissonant polyrhythms from seemingly humble means. On the spiraling "Kule Kule," a likembe (thumb piano) belts out coarse electronic overtones that sound like they could be from an Aphex Twin record. Meanwhile, the carnivalesque "Mama Liza," with its celebratory whistling and percussion, evokes a Brazilian samba school in full regalia.