Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Konono No 1

  • Congotronics [Crammed Discs, 2004] **
  • Live at Couleur Cafe [Crammed Discs, 2007] A-
  • Assume Crash Position [Crammed Discs, 2010] A-
  • Konono No. 1 Meets Batida [Crammed Discs, 2016] A-

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Congotronics [Crammed Discs, 2004]
Your chance to eavesdrop on a genuine African ritual! ("Lufuala Ndonga," "Mama Liza"). **

Live at Couleur Cafe [Crammed Discs, 2007]
Oddly, this Brussels-recorded "mini-album" lasts six minutes longer than 2004's presumably full-length Kinshasa-recorded debut and repeats only two of its songs. Not that songs mean much with such a sound- and rhythm-driven crew--certainly less than the professionalism they've gained since Vincent Kenis lured them from obscurity or retirement early in the decade. Stepped-up force, drive and pace render it the most intense of the three extant Congosonics showcases--the one I'll play when I crave their paleo-futurist fusion of village dance-trance and hand-crafted electronic distortion. The limits of that fusion will be tested by the 2008 album for which this is said to be a placeholder. See them live while you can. A-

Assume Crash Position [Crammed Discs, 2010]
I don't expect their diminishing lo-fi claque to care, but the third album from these briefly modish Kinshasa techno-primitives is also their best, for solid yet marginal reasons that boil down to recording quality: the buzzing distortions of their DIY-amped likembes are more distinct, and so are the unpop although not therefore untrained voices of three singers it is safe to assume got their first lessons before they were three. A jam band to the core, they don't craft their "songs" any more cunningly, but the effect is more song-like. Then, after 52 minutes, there's an unbuzzy finale: four minutes of acoustic likembe and aged voice which I call a coda and you may call a bore. To my medium-fi ears, this is where to begin. If having begun one then chooses not to continue, that would be reasonable. There's a lot of great music in the world--even in Kinshasa still I bet. A-

Konono No. 1 Meets Batida [Crammed Discs, 2016]
I always knew Batida's hard-ass beats were why I plucked his eponymous 2012 CD out of the welter of DJ albums--and knew they meant to be hard-ass, because that's how you translate the Angolan kuduro style he went electro with. But it took Crammed Discs schemer Vincent Kenis to alert me to the obvious: just as soukous's rippling polyrhythms once migrated south from Congo, there's a congruence between the modern Lusaka sound and the unforgiving attack of Kinshasa's 21st-century street bands--the much-missed Staff Benda Bilili and the self-renewing Konono No. 1. Now led by Agustin Makuntima Mawangu, whose late father originally rigged up their battery-powered likembes, Konono have always seemed a touch spare and samey at album length, and Batida is just the hard-ass to fill out their sonics without softening them. Here be guitars and handclaps, thick electronics and stuttering glitches, guest singers who can actually sing. Konono's steady improvement over four albums may have cost them primitivist cachet and novelty appeal. But don't be the kind of fool who thinks they're just repeating themselves. A-