Konono Nº1 was founded at the beginning of the 1980s ago by Mingiedi, a virtuoso of the likembe (the traditional instrument sometimes called “sanza” or “thumb piano”, consisting of metal rods attached to a resonator). The band’s line-up includes three electric likembes (bass, medium and treble), equipped with hand-made microphones built from magnets salvaged from old car parts, and plugged into amplifiers. There’s also a rhythm section which uses traditional as well as makeshift percussion (pans, pots and car parts), singers, dancers and a peculiar sound system including megaphones dating from the colonial period, which they call “lance-voix” (‘voice-throwers’).
The members of Konono Nº1 come from an area which sits right across the border between Congo and Angola. Their repertoire draws largely on Bazombo trance music, to which they’ve had to incorporate the originally-unwanted distortions of their sound system.
Just like most of the other bands that appear in the Congotronics series, these are musicians who left the bush to settle in the capital and who, in order to go on keep fulfilling their social role and make themselves heard by the ancestors (and, more specifically, by their fellow citizens) despite the high level of urban noise, have had to resort to a makeshift electrification of their instruments. This has provoked a radical mutation of their sound, and has accidentally connected them with the aesthetics of experimental rock and electronic music, as much through the sounds they use than through the sheer volume of their performances (they play in front of a wall of speakers) and their merciless grooves.
These bands are likely to be warmly adopted by the electronica and avant-rock communities (as well as, naturally, by the world music aficionados), as attested by the immediate reactions of artists such as Matthew Herbert and Tortoise’s John McEntire, who have enthusiastically volunteered to remix tracks for a future volume of Congotronics.
The Konono Nº1 album, Congotronics, is the first volume of Crammed Record’s series Congotronics, which is devoted to electrified traditional music from Kinshasa. It was recorded and produced by Vincent Kenis, who produced albums by Zap Mama, Taraf de Haidouks & Kocani Orkestar. At the same time, he has played a key part in the sonic design of many Crammed releases, right from Aksak Maboul’s seminal Onze Danses Pour Combattre la Migraine to many albums of electronic music released on the SSR imprint.
Konono Nº1 won the BBC Award for world Music 2006 (‘Newcomers’ category).
Author: Angel Romero
Angel Romero y Ruiz has been writing about world music and progressive music for many years. He founded the websites worldmusiccentral.org and musicasdelmundo.com. Angel produced several specials for Metropolis (TVE) and co-produced “Musica NA”, a music show for Televisión Española (TVE) in Spain that featured an eclectic mix of world music, fusion, electronica, new age and contemporary classical music. Angel also produced and remastered world music and electronic music albums, compilations and boxed sets for Alula Records, Ellipsis Arts, Music of the World, Lektronic Soundscapes, and Mindchild Records. Angel is currently based in Durham, North Carolina.