And with one album, the electric likembe (thumb piano) was thrust into the infatuation center of many a sonic nutcase’s aural vocabulary. The album was last year’s Congotronics, and the band responsible was Konono N°1, a musical collective from the suburbs of Kinshasa, Congo. The group baffled the world-music scene with its traditional approximations of electronic and avant-garde music. And Konono N°1’s primary tools were scrappily amplified instruments, most notably the likembe, that relied on copper telephone and crushed car-alternator magnets to act as pickups.
With the second installment of the Congotronics series, even more DIY bands showcase this traditional African sound with hints of abrasive punk (Sobanza Mimanisa’s “Kiwembo“) and the infectiously manipulated habits of modern electronic artists (Kasai Allstars’ “Kabuangoyi“). What’s typically been posited of this series is how the musicians are able to strike cues that they have no real-life exposure to. But what we fail to acknowledge is that most of what we term modern music has its earliest roots in African sound. The similarities also suggest something innate in the human species, this desire to make the loudest noise possible, by any means necessary. And if that likens thumb piano players to three-chord guitar thrashers, so be it.
What’s lacking this time around is the cohesiveness of the Konono N°1 record. The musicians come from various cultural and geographical backgrounds, and that leads to wide variation throughout the styles. But at the core of everything are the ever-present beat and the musicians’ desire to make a really fucking loud noise out of necessity to be heard above the urban clutter. With groups such as Masanka Sankayi using their rhythmic pulse to drive a harsh bullet of “Le Laboureur” through speakers, it’s no surprise that this series of records has catapulted itself above the typically forgotten influx of world music.
Sobanza Mimanisa video