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Kasai Allstars - In the 7th Moon, The Chief Turned Into a Swimming Fish and Ate the Head of His Enemy by Magic

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Artist: Kasai Allstars

Album: In the 7th Moon, The Chief Turned Into a Swimming Fish and Ate the Head of His Enemy by Magic

Label: Crammed Discs

Review date: Jul. 18, 2008

In the 7th Moon, the Chief Turned into a Swimming Fish and Ate the Head of his Enemy by Magic, the new album from Kinshasa's Kasai Allstars, represents not only one of music's more elaborate album titles, but also a bit of varsity gold for Crammed Discs' Congotronics series. Preceded by Konono No. 1's album, and the Congotronics Vol. 2 compilation that quickly followed, In the 7th Moon… brings not just more of the same but in fact a more nuanced and better recorded version of what the first two promised.

The band members of Kasai Allstars represent five different ethnic groups, each with its own suite of rhythms, singing styles and dances, yet as a single body of work there is an easy rhythmic and melodic consistency that belies a stronger chemistry than one might expect. Many of the songs here, from the eerily gentle "Quick As White" to the more driving but equally hypnotic "Mukuba," inhabit a more relaxed world than the frantic, electrified Konono No. 1 recordings, but the theme here is often a more refined approach. Many of the melodies are produced by the likembe - the same instrument central to the first two Congotronics - but there is less evidence of junkyard overdrive metamorphosis. Instead, the instruments do the talking, including electric guitar and a whole array of ratcheting, vibrating percussion that sounds like everything from a hollowed out log to a jawbone. Some of these otherworldly noisemakers sound like the work of a Mad Scientist or Mikey Dread, but are standard to the group’s arsenal. In fact, the emphasis on the indigenous instruments - whether it's a recording decision or the music itself is simply more organic - ultimately draws the listener's attention to the inherent precision of the performances. With the ultimate goal being to induce a trance, some of this work could give meticulous techno producers a run for their money. The almost relentless rhythmic vamps are balanced by electric guitar, which, despite the differing ethnic origins, seems to play a similar role from track to track, a gentle tonic to the harsher and more percussive instruments, taking second seat with an ethereal and languid ring not unlike the sound of palm wine or highlife guitar, with an occasional acceleration into soukous or rumba territory.

In some ways, the Kasai Allstars’ model of cooperation and polyethnic collaboration actually takes a careful step away from the critically-lauded cultural collision of Konono No. 1's electrification project. Less encumbered by the colonial detritus of Konono's overdriven drums-meet-junkyard sound, the Allstars let the rhythm section breathe and get funky with indigenous instrumentation. No distortion necessary.

By Andy Freivogel

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