**Cedar Cultural Center**
**November 10, 2005**
Variously dubbed “Afro-Industrialism” and the more preposterous-sounding “Post-Colonial Electronica,” the debut album of the Congolese group Konono N°1, __Congotronics__ (“Crammed Discs”:http://www.crammed.be/), has rapidly gained notoriety on both sides of the Atlantic. The group came to the Cedar Cultural Center in the early part of their twelve day, ten city US tour. The mood before the performance was one of excited anticipation and Konono N°1 did not disappoint.
While the group is new to most ears outside of Kinshasa, Konono has existed since at least the 1970s. Busking on the streets of Kinshasa, the leader of the group, Mawangu Mingiedi, amplified their performances to avoid being drowned out by the urban roar. The group salvaged old amplifiers and scraps of car parts to craft microphones, eventually building a wall of speakers so their performances could not be ignored. One result of such DIY amplification was the massively overdriven and distorted sound of their __likembe__, which quickly became the group’s sonic trademark. The instrument, which dates from the middle of the nineteenth-century, is similar to other sub-Saharan African thumb pianos like the __mbira__ and __kalimba__, consisting of thumb-plucked metallic rods, tuned and attached to a resonator. Konono N°1 utilizes high, medium, and low __likembe__, with the most virtuosic riffs played by Mingiedi or Mawangu Makuntima.
Although listeners get a strong sense of the group’s volume on record, __Congotronics__ still only approximates the force of Konono’s sound live. Using much of the same equipment that the group has collected over the years, the three __likembe__ produced fuzzed-out polyrhythms in “Lufuala Ndonga” that made the Cedar’s floorboards tremble. They floated above a propulsive rhythm section comprised of two large drums, a whistle, two agogo bells, a snare drum, and a ragged looking (and even more ragged _sounding_) cymbal. The bellowing torrent of sound forced Buaku Ngingulu, the “President” of Konono, to shout his Lingala lyrics, often in call-and-response style, not only with the group but the audience as well.
Konono N°1 exemplifies the diversity of Congolese popular music, which extends far beyond the Euro-American catch-all term __soukous__. While the music has a strong current of traditional Bazombo trance music, created in the hills between Congo and Angola, it would be wrong to think of this as primitive neo-tribalism. The music is infused with the various cultural strands that have shaped the urban musical scene in Kinshasa.
For example, the presence of two agogo, as well as a whistle, bear the influence of the Cuban __son__, a result of massive importation of Latin American music in the 1930s into Kinshasa and other African cities by RCA Victor records. Another example occurred at the end of the show, when a woman in the crowd gave the performers dollar bills to wipe their brows, revealing the cultural incorporation of West African music traditions of monetary exchange. It is no surprise, then, that Konono occupies a musical space in the Congo known as “tradi-modern.” (In January, Crammed will release __Buzz ‘n’ Rumble from the Urban Jungle__, a collection featuring more “tradi-modern” music.)
Such ethnomusicological discourse, however, was most likely not on the minds of Konono’s audience at the Cedar. Fortunately, the staff removed most of the chairs so the crowd could dance. And dance they did. Before the show, I heard that the length of Konono’s set would depend on the mood of the crowd and how much they got into the music. As the musicians locked into another thundering groove, eliciting cheers and further dancing from the crowd, the normally granite-faced Mingiedi broke a pleased smile. The show ran nearly two hours, an hour longer than expected. It seemed that on this night, both Konono N°1 and their audience had their expectations surpassed.
For more on __Congotronics__ by Konono N°1, see Crammed Discs’ website