Various Artists “Congotronics 2”


One of last year’s great discoveries was the “Congotronics” album by Konono No. 1, a Congolese group that’s been around since the 1970s. Founded by electrician Mawangu Mingiedi, Konono No. 1 produces music with likembe thumb pianos amplified through microphones and amplifiers rebuilt from old junk, and accompanied by frantic rhythms beaten out on whatever is available, including pots and pans. Mingiedi’s primitive electric amplification methods have a prosaic purpose: to help the music be heard over the normal street din of the city. The resulting distortion is difficult to describe, but it makes the already lulling melodies and beats more intensely hypnotic.

This second collection includes one Konono No. 1 track. The other eight are by groups influenced by Mingiedi, thus broadening the stylistic parameters and creating what, in effect, is an entire distinctive musical genre on one CD, with enough room for the zydeco-like accordion of Sobanza Mimanisa and the high-life guitars of Basokin. The album also includes a bonus DVD of some of these artists performing on the streets of Kinshasa, thus providing the context in which the songs were created. Tribal in origin, this music is nevertheless urban in character: gritty, expansive and cosmopolitan. And like the city, once you get a taste, you never want to leave.