In the suburbs of Kinshasa, the capital city of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, there is a "strange and spectacular electro-traditional" sound being concocted. Drawing largely on Bazombo trance music, the most well-known of the bands creating this sound is Konono No.1, a band founded over 25 years ago which finally saw its first recording released last year.

Missing image - congotronics1.jpg

The music is shaped by likembé, or thumb piano, Konono using three (bass, medium, treble). Rigging these instruments to homemade microphones, and playing in front of a wall of speakers, the sound created is a mix of the traditional trance and experimental electronic music, an inadvertent though impressive combination. The addition of makeshift percussion and sometimes guitar and bass rounds out the line-up and sound. If this description defies comprehension, take a listen to this sample by Konono.

Missing image - congotronics2.jpg

On the heels of Congotronics 1 came the second installment this year, a mix of eight musicians creating similar but varied music. Subtitled Buzz n' Rumble from the Urban Jungle -- recalling the 1974 Ali-Foreman boxing match that took place in the Congo in 1974 -- I'm reminded of The Indestructible Beat of Soweto, another mix of African musicians, though South African instead of Congo. What each compilation shares is not only a snapshot of a certain time and a certain type of music but also a certain place.

Missing image - congotronics3.jpg

Where The Indestructible Beat grew out of the "rural-urban contradictions" of Soweto, according to Robert Christgau, Congotronics grew from the traditional-modern confrontations of Kinshasa, according to my interpretation of things. Most obviously this is apparent in the mix of trance and electronics, the latter a necessity to be heard in the city's noisy streets. In some ways, Konono and these other bands are trying to tame the "urban jungle", creating acacophonyy of sound (that's sometimes rather beautiful) with an underlying structure that holds it all together.


  1. Great live cd, actually came out before Congotronics, check it:

    free song:

  2. Wandering around my 'hood this weekend, I came across that live cd at a used record store. Haven't listened to it yet, though definitely will soon. Quite a coincidence!

  3. I discovered Congotronics on emusic about a month ago. I don't think a day has gone by since that I have not listened to it. Amazing and powerful music. I am definitely looking forward to more -

  4. funny how some instruments are inherent to traditional cultures - that same instrument is called a Rumba box in Jamaica

  5. They played at the Kennedy Center in DC several months back. It was an interesting show and had a lot of potential. The music is even more trancelike in person and has a jazz feel in that a lot of the songs seem to be improvised around a musical theme.

    Unfortunately the ushers at the kennedy Center were really pushy and didn't let anybody in the crowd stand up and dance. (Egads! Those people are enjoying themselves! Stop them now.) I would love to see them again in a setting that was less uptight and more fun.


Post a Comment

Comments are moderated for spam.