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Congotronics International
Where's The One? Jakub Knera , May 3rd, 2022 08:22

The cooperation between Deerhoof, Kasai Allstars, Konono no 1, Wildbirds & Peacedrums, Juana Molina and Matt Mehlan of Skeletons shows their potential to create danceable and pulsating melodies as Congotronics International

The album Tradi-Mods Vs Rockers: Alternative Takes on Congotronics released in 2010 was a monumental and original project. The two-disc release showed the intertwining of the ideas and inspirations of artists from the Kinshasa scene that has influenced indie artists from the US and Europe for many years. One year later, when the information about a joint tour of this release’s creators appeared, I did not think long. In the middle of the hot July of 2011, I stepped through the front door of the intimate Parisian Café de la Danse. The only thing I had doubts about was how it would be possible to dance in this space with all those seats put there for the audience. Because, somehow, I could not imagine that anyone would sit still.

The drawing on the cover of Where’s the One? presents the truth – there really were so many people on the stage, but it was probably difficult to include everyone in one photo. As a result of the combined efforts of musicians from Konono No. 1, Kasai Allstars, Deerhoof, Wildbirds & Peacedrums, Juana Molina, and Matt Mehlan, the small stage in Paris accommodated five guitarists, three likembe players, five percussionists, two bass players, and three drummers. Songs were created remotely in Kinshasa, New York, Buenos Aires, New Mexico and Stockholm, and were arranged during rehearsals in April 2011 in Belgium, right before the tour. The tour itself consisted of a dozen of concerts, located mostly in Europe. Each of the performances was recorded, and the album released this year by Crammed Discs – after the grueling production work by Greg Saunier in the mixing process – constitutes a compilation of powers of this supergroup members.

The first intense part of the album is a trance journey. You can feel the guitar power in ‘Where's the one’ with brilliant vocals of Satomi Matsuzaki and Mariam Wallentin. ‘Kule Kule’ sounds like a speeding roller here – dense guitars intertwine in polyphony with bells or electrified likembe. In ‘The Chief Enters Again’, guitars add great colour to the sound, and ‘Château Rouge’ is a wonderful display of percussion and slightly electrified sound played at a marching pace.

A unique moment on the album is the reinterpretation of Wildbirds & Peacedrims’ ‘Doubt & Hope’, which is originally written for minimalist percussion and vocals, but here in the finale it is deepened by the guitar and electronic sounds. Juana Molina presents her beautiful voice in the percussion-electronic ‘Tita Tita’, and her composing skills are fully revealed in ‘Bombo & Sifflets’. The first part of it was written in Buenos Aires with the musicians from Kasai Allstars, and the second one was added by the whole Congotronics International team.

What I find crucial is that there is no room for exoticism or post-colonial delight on Where's The One?, just like the album Tradi-Mods Vs Rockers before it. A fully democratic album shows not only the potential of the musicians from Kinshasa, but also such flavours as Deerhoof’s approach to guitar music or the Swedes’ percussive flair. The songs written by the Kinshasa representation offer the greatest potential for ensemble playing. Not only ‘Super Duper Rescue Allstars’ proves it well, but also the duet between Dieterich and Waku in ‘For Augustin’: a cosmic improvisation for likembe and electric guitar – two instruments that have many sonic common points. This symbiotic state of the two instruments is stressed best in a studio version of ‘Beyond the 7th Bend’. The band, however, does not act as if it was a speeding machine all the time. It also has some quieter, more poetic moments, mainly thanks to the abovementioned female vocalists, but also during ‘Many Tongues In Our Band’ sang by Muambuyi Ntumba Ngalula against the background of an electrified, water-sound-like rhythm. All the pieces constitute a splendid array of transnational collaboration, a brilliant collage of ideas.

It is wonderful that the documentation of this extraordinary meeting has been published, even though we had to wait ten years for this to happen. On that day in Paris, right before the concert in Café de la Danse, I had the opportunity to talk to Augustin Makuntima Mawangu, who then told me: “Konono music does not exist without dance”. He was right. A few hours later, people left their seats and the whole room fell into a dancing trance in front of the stage. You will do the same while listening to Where's The One?, I promise.