People in Frank's APA have been going on about Congotronics, a record featuring music by the Congolese sensations Konono No. 1. They have also mentioned the other Congotronics record, which features other bands from the Kinshasa scene. My beloved and I have finally succumbed and bought the two of these. Christ, this is amazing stuff. Repeated listens to the Konono No. 1 album has me planning my holiday in the Congo. Those of you who take Frank's APA will recall that Konono No. 1 are essentially a dance band who play in Kinshasa nightclubs, using makeshift instruments and equipment in lieu of the flash stuff Whitey has at his disposal. So the percussion heavy music is often literally based on people banging bits of scrap metal together while the odd electronic sounds are made by playing home made thumb pianos through loudspeakers made from abandoned car parts. The record’s sleeve-notes talk about how through a process of parallel evolution the Kinshasa scene has arrived a sound akin to that embraced by the West’s experimentalists. There is something to that, but it misses one crucial thing about the Congotronic sound – it’s fun! This music would be deadly in a club full of E-ed up nutters, who doubtless would enjoy all the whistles.
The other thing I like about this record is how un-world musicy it is. You don’t listen to it feeling like you are listening to a product world of timeless tradition, untainted by outside influences. This is a mutant music of permanent revolution, produced by musicians who are embracing modernity (or post-modernity). Oh sure, there is a suggestion of some kind of origin in traditional music of some sort, but there is nothing precious or anti-developmentalist about it.
Weirdly, with its syncopated drumming and somewhat ramshackle sounds, this record strikes me as almost being like the Langley School Music Project meet Adam And The Ants (with different vocalists). There is definitely one track where the drumming sounds like ‘Ant Rap’. Who knows, because Konono No. 1 sing in foreign I can’t make out what they are saying, but maybe they are saying their names in a culturally relevant Marco-Merrick-Terry-Lee style.
LATER Thinking about it again, I must qualify that Langley Schools Music Project comparison. I do not mean by it that Konono No.1 are unskilled musicians or that they are operating at some kind of instinctive level, with their ideas on how to make music untainted by any intellectual ideas of technique or suchlike. Rather, It’s like they have the same kind of can-do attitude, and a willingness not to be held back by apparently major problems. In Konono No.1’s case, they have the lack of proper instruments & amplification equipment, which is overcome by making instruments out of scrap metal and building loudspeakers from magnets salvaged from car batteries. With the Langley Schools Music Project, there is the genuine lack of skill on the part of so many of the musicians; this is overcome by just making the goddamn record anyway.
Anyway, I understand that many people do not like the Langley Schools Music Project, but you would have to be some kind of fun hater to not dig the Congotronics.