Konono No. 1


nvariably, we’re going to have some problems. Despite even the best of efforts, Konono No. 1’s inclusion here is going to seem incredulous and condescending in the same way as anthropology—revealing but somehow inappropriate, a botched articulation of love resultant from the built in methodological roadblocks of irreducible difference. There are two things about the commodification of music that need to be evaluated before the details, though: one, the music itself, and two, how it got here. The latter is relatively easy (as it should be) for most Stylus readers to ignore in their daily life: there are musicians, they’re on labels, or have some distribution channel, and they make a record. What makes this first installment of Belgium label Crammed’s Congotronics series so interesting is that despite existing basically in total irrelevance to that process for the last 25 years in their home on the border between Congo and Angola, Konono No. 1’s music has, as the liner notes so gracefully explain, “accidentally connected them with the aesthetics of the most experimental forms of rock and electronic music,” both alleviating my post-colonial self-criticisms, and lending the album an empowering contextual fluidity to augment the strengths of the music itself.

Instrumentally, the band is led by the fairly distinct sounds of a bass, middle, and treble likemebe (thumb pianos outfitted with homemade electric pickups and amps), which sound roughly like the cheapest-ass guitars played through trashed speakers with shredded cones, percussive tonal bursts buzzing against and resonating with each other, the bass producing a repetitive, rumbling two note syncopation supporting the treble’s breaks into wild, glorious arpeggios, with the middle darting between beats and augmenting the web of aural strobes. Underneath, a discarded auto-parts tam tam stutters an infectious, looping rattle, a toy train endlessly careening around a bend, folding each bar into the next. Supported by two popping hand drums, the three form a swirling, rhizomatic flurry of beats, an aural perpetual motion machine that goes from zero to heaven in breathtaking gradations, coaxing the music into a realm of trancelike intensity beyond aggression, the instruments knotting together blindingly, a cyclic hypnosis on the verge of collapse, punctuated by shouts and whistles, only to stop on a dime without ceremony—no release, the tensions simply exhausted, hanging in the air.

This tapestry of homemade instruments gives the mythology of Konono a potent, raw edge, and the ferocity with which they play them only further substantiates the feeling that the music has been pushed into a raw, indelibly pure zone (note: this record should be listened to very, very loud). It feels a little backhanded to praise a music that so well fits many non-African peoples’ stereotypes of what “African music” might be (basically, “primitive”)—as, just like there is no singly “American” or “European” music, there is no “African” music—furthermore, Konono No. 1’s first produced document (having offered a live set in 2004 entitled Lubuaku on Terp Records, imprint of the Ex, the fabled Holland anarcho-punk troupe who brought them on tour and into a wider musical context) measures highly by familiar aesthetic yardsticks, easily outdoing the id-jockeying aspirations of Wolf Eyes and out-sweating the hoodied neo-cosmopolitan tribalism of bands like Black Dice, going further and deeper, sweating out its own contextual limitations and challenging our own, creating something utterly great and refreshing.

Reviewed by: Mike Powell

Reviewed on: 2005-02-23

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Posted 02/23/2005 - 12:09:15 PM by clamsy:
 shit, man, just because you're white doesn't mean you can't dig on an african record w/o all going to grad school on it first. it IS just music. but, hey, if you need that empowering contextual fluidity to alleviate your post-colonial guilt, more power to you. middle paragraph is nice, though
Posted 02/23/2005 - 12:26:07 PM by mikepowell:
 unfortunately, i go grad school on stuff as a reflex because i'm slightly neurotic and hopelessly detached. all i was trying to convey was this record's unusual connection to similar american/european aesthetics, while still being distinctly 'afircan'- but i'm not saying we're arguing, i just needed an angle. it is just music, and good music at that.
Posted 02/23/2005 - 01:02:22 PM by clamsy:
 right on. mostly I am curious, when i see reviews like these, what the members of the band would maybe think about what they are being aesthetically placed with (ie wolf eyes, black dice). i'm not going to be presumptuous enough to assume that they definitely aren't aware of new american noise bands, but really most likely aren't. although I guess that disconnect/connection between (at least implied) "tradition" and apparently unrelated forms of expression happening somewhere else is what you were getting at. taking another look, I can understand how it would be difficult to express that while not stepping on metaphorical toes. sorry to come off dickish
Posted 02/23/2005 - 01:28:36 PM by meatbreak:
 How about thinking what Froots or some worldmusic mag might have to say and compare it to? Then maybe splice the reviews together and form the same traditional/modern rhythm/noise aesthetic comments that this band make with their music. You think this band are aware of their origins with this serpentine squall blasting ten foot tall sheets of shit into the back of their heads?
Posted 02/23/2005 - 02:25:21 PM by mikepowell:
 meatbreak, i'm not sure i understand what you mean- and i post again here, because this was difficult for me to express, and i love people's opinions on the subject. are you asking if i think konono is aware of wolf eyes? doubt it, which is why i restated the word "accidental" from the liner notes, which is hugely important. i guess it was a dressy way of saying if you're interested in african music, you might like congotronics, but you might also like it if you're into wolf eyes, which certainly isn't true of most african music. i'm really excited and curious to see how a place that writes largely on world music will respond to this record- i'm responding from a particular context (my own tastes) to a particular readership. stylus isn't a "world" music place, but i was hoping to take an approach that would make konono seem interesting and familiar without simply co-opting it, which would be pretty lame, right?
Posted 02/23/2005 - 02:56:01 PM by florenz6:
 It is not unusual that a record that comes from a place far away from any musical capitol of the world, leads to an exchange of western-non-western points of view. Mike Powell suceeds in making this record interesting for people who are normally not keen on african groove music. What makes this record really a rewarding experiencing, is a) that it has nothing to do with the mainstream of world music, b) its fascination for distortion c) its trans-cultural trance effect (and for this last thing, yes, really, you have to play it loud!)
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