Published Apr 01, 2005The music of Konono No. 1's Congotronics adds a new dimension to arguments over what constitutes "raw" or "refined" global grooves. It is ancient-sounding and utterly modern, esoteric yet populist, acoustic and electric and simply astounds all who hear it. Over the last 25 years, these dozen musicians on the outskirts of Kinshasa, Congo, have constructed electrified thumb pianos (likembes), percussion made from car parts and hand-carved wooden microphones, and amplified them through an array of huge megaphones. Their DIY sound system was the consequence of trying to make their Bazombo trance rhythms of the Angolan-Congolese border heard within a noisy urban environment. The unique distortions created by their interplay with the sound system have, as the liner notes state, "accidentally connected them with the aesthetics of the most experimental forms of rock and electronic music." The sonic brew cooked up by producer Victor Kenis in conjunction with the musicians is amazingly rich. Low frequencies are thick and Moog-like, while the sonorities of the middle and upper ranged likembes would please the most ardent Sonic Youth fans. The fast, relentless nature of the music recalls both the smooth guitar interplay of soukous and the ferocity of what used to be known as "tribal" house, à la Armand Van Helden. Unlike music for the dance floor, though, this music is utter tension with no release. And there's more where this came from: their label, Crammed Discs, plans to release another volume of Congotronics featuring various artists from Kinshasa in a similar vein, plus remixes. This is an essential purchase.