Music News

Konono No. 1

Konono No. 1 is from the Congo and is unlike anything you've ever heard. The group's music is based on the sound of the likembé, or Congolese thumb piano. Angola-born bandleader Mawangu Mingiedi moved to Kinshasa (Congo's capital) in the 1970s, starting the band with the intention of playing Bazombo trance music, a style played at funerals in his home village. (Konono translates as "dead body.") People couldn't hear his likembé over the noise of the city, so he built an amplifier, which attracted other musicians interested in the unique overtones the amps produced with feedback and distortion. Thirty years later, with sons and grandsons in the band, Konono has become a world phenomenon, a link between the folk music of Africa and the electronic dance music of today. The group's three likembés — bass, tenor, and treble — lay down sinuous, ever-shifting, rhythmic patterns, complemented by percussionists playing hubcaps and garbage pans as well as traditional drums. The music has the raw energy of early James Brown-style funk, a dizzying swirl of rhythmic electronic noise full of buzzing overtones, and an irresistible excitement generated by the vocalists' singing, clapping, and whistle-blowing. Echoes of Africa, Cuba, and Brazil spin through the music, flavored by hints of the minimalism of Steve Reich and the industrial noise of Einstürzende Neubauten. But these latter ideas might have actually come from Africa, if Konono No. 1 is any indication.

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J. Poet