(or four) albums into the “Congotronics” series, observers might well
wonder if the genre amounts to more than one group. The first release featured
the hypnotic Konono No. 1, and the second was a compilation dominated by the
collective, which runs clinking thumb pianos (likembes) through transcendently
cruddy-sounding amps. Those CDs were followed by a live album, not technically
a “Congotronics” release, by none other than Konono No. 1.
arrives an album by Kasai Allstars, also heard on the Congotronics 2
collection. This reportedly 25-person ensemble — 19 musicians are credited
here — is rooted in the same musics as Konono No. 1, and updates the likembes,
xylophones, drums and call-and-response vocals with electric guitars.
titled In the 7th moon, the chief turned
into a swimming fish and ate the head of his enemy by magic, the 70-minute
set is plenty trancey, but not especially ‘tronic. Indeed, subtract the guitars
and some occasional distortion, and the music sounds closer to its roots than
most recent Afropop.
the disc is front-loaded with tracks most likely to appeal to fans of the
previous Congotronics releases. Such dense, incantatory numbers as “Quick
as White” and “Kafuulu Balu” are knockouts, combining the
urgency of ancient ritual with the textural surprises that result from plugging
the traditional into the modern.
such other pieces as “Beyond the 7th Moon,” an unelectrified
instrumental, could have been recorded generations ago. That’s interesting, but
only moderately so; lots of African trance music is already available from
ethno-musicology specialists. The Kasai Allstars are only halfway Congotronic,
but that’s the more interesting half.
Standout Tracks: “Quick as
White,” “Kafuulu Balu” MARK JENKINS