Originally published through Planet magazine, Summer 2005.
Congolese trance group Konono Nº1 plays raucous near-punk renditions of traditional music on makeshift electrified likembés. Instead of the traditional resonating gourd, the likembés’ plucked metal strips are attached to pickups crafted from the magnets of car alternators and amplified through megaphones left behind by the Dutch colonists, giving the instrument a sound somewhere between a xylophone and the dirtiest, most distorted guitar. The group’s percussion is equally homemade: pots, pans and hi-hats made from hubcaps. Founded 25 years ago in Kinshasa, Konono is based on Bazombo trance music. It is part of what the Congolese call “tradi-moderne”, traditional music jerry-rigged for a booming urban sound. Championed by Tortoise and Dutch art rockers the Ex, the group has found an audience outside the confines of “world music” in electronic and experimental rock circles. After becoming a fan 20 years ago, Vincent Kenis (producer of Zap Mama) tracked them down for a debut recording session. With no reliable recording studios in Kinshasa, the album was recorded outdoors onto a G4 laptop, apropos its DIY aesthetic. Raw and unusual, Konono Nº1 is not to be missed.