Konono No. 1 Harbourfront Centre, Toronto ON - July 8, 2006

Inasmuch as Konono No. 1’s album was a collaboration between the group and their producer to achieve their signature sound of DIY electrified thumb pianos (likembes), the large and diverse crowd at Harbourfront’s main stage were undoubtedly wondering what the live Konono experience would be like. This was a stripped down version of the band with three likembe players, two dedicated percussionists and a vocalist who also dropped in on percussion. Starting off slowly, they found their legs ten minutes into the show. Vocal chants and trade-offs between the likembes became more adept and the tempo gradually picked up. This opener lasted 45 minutes — the first of five songs that comprised their 90-minute set — and was a challenge to the majority of the audience. For some, this was 45 minutes of their lives they’ll never get back, while others gave themselves up to the trance-inducing sameness of it all. Harbourfront did a good job capturing the raw Konono sound, which was lodged within a narrow frequency range between mid- and upper midrange. Mics on Konono’s trademarked battered megaphones were the source of most of the mix, although the backing vocals were mic-ed through the main PA. This may have put some people off — the non-stop midrange was more taxing to listen to than, say, a continuous DJ mix that utilises extreme highs and lows. As well, there were no complete breakdowns to beatlessness, only variations on a theme. Leader Mawangu Mingiedi supervised the proceedings, parked in the background in his K-Way jacket and ball cap, holding his likembe like a clipboard. As a soloist, he’s fascinating, finding endless long form variations within the same scale. At times, it seemed as though a solo had ended only to have phrases completed minutes later. Inevitably, those closer to the sound sources found themselves enveloped by the experience. Next time, it would be better to see them in a club where there’s no escape from the noise.