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Kasai Allstars

The third installment in Crammed Discs' awesome series of "Congotronics" releases continues in the praiseworthy path of its predecessors, delivering yet another defiantly nonacademic album of African music. Just like the first "Congotronics" album, the unfuckwithably mind-blowing Konono N°1 disc that gave the series its title, this set from the Kasai Allstars trains a sharp focus on a group of resolutely tribal musicians who have progressed their traditional music into something contemporary-sounding yet completely untouched by outside cultural influences. (The second "Congotronics" disc, Buzz 'n' Rumble from the Urb 'n' Jungle, was a compilation of concert recordings by Konono, Kasai, and other groups who, one can only hope, will soon release their own full-lengths.) With more than a dozen musicians hailing from at least five different Congolese ethnic groups, the cultural stew of Kasai is one that is well-stirred and spiced with everything from electric guitars to likembes (thumb pianos) and group vocals. Most of the cuts here assume a rambling sort of jam-madness but with none of the heavy, percussive underpinnings found in the Afrobeat of their Nigerian neighbors to the northwest. Instead, like the soulful shouts of the music of nearby Angola, all of the musical elements here have a vocal quality; even the drums are high-pitched and thin. With hypnotic chants, dizzying melodies, and circular guitar lines, the entire affair takes on a deeply psychedelic feel; thankfully, one can almost see the smiles cracking on the players' faces. This is celebratory music, not meant to be overanalyzed or classified. The Kasai Allstars gleefully recombine whatever strikes their fancy, resulting in a sound that's wholly unique and a tremendous amount of fun.

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