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V/A - Congotronics 2

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Artist: V/A

Album: Congotronics 2

Label: Crammed Discs

Review date: Feb. 26, 2006

Good news, people - there's more where Konono No. 1 come from, and Crammed Discs knows where to find it. This compilation goes for breadth where Konono’s Congotronics went for depth. It introduces seven groups that are often quite different Konono (whose album-finishing track from a Belgian festival gig is the only tune here not recorded on location in Kinshasa), but share three essential qualities. They update rural styles of social music for an urban audience; they employ harsh-sounding homemade PAs for amplification; and their music is marvelously celebratory.

But where Konono relies on likembes (thumb pianos) to carry there melodies, these groups work in accordions, balafons (wooden marimbas), and honest-to-goodness electric guitars. Sobanza Mimanisa’s track would sound just like old-school soukous if it weren’t for the in-the-red fuzz that radiates from their guitar and vocal lines like haze from a neon beer sign on a humid night.

The Masanka Sankayi + Kasai Allstars track that opens the CD applies this sound-system processing mainly to the call-and-response vocals, which bob upon the drum section’s undulating groove. Without Sankayi, the Allstars adopt a more layered approach; on “Koyile/Nyeka Nyeka,” the overlay multiple patterns in which the delicate balafon figures turn without heavier drum parts like those little spinning hubcaps you see on the wheels of tricked-out low riders these days.

The DVD doesn’t depict each track on the CD. It includes one all-acoustic group, Tulu, whose use of a drum made out of a sardine can confirms that the ensemble is kin to the rest of these groups. The videos cut glimpses of Kinshasa¹s rather grim slums with ample footage of performers and fans dancing and sweating in wobbly, hand-held shots that fall well short of professional, but make up for it with their spontaneity. Some of the dancers mug for the camera like kids on American Bandstand, and you sure can’t hear them successfully balancing half-full beer bottles on their heads while they shake their hips

By Bill Meyer

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