Archaic, loud and raw: Konono No. 1
Seldom has electronic music sounded as acoustic as this from a traditional African dance band. It was learned by the band’s founder Mawangu Mingiedi from his grandfathers and is played on home-made instruments. Amplified and warped electronically, it is rocky, raw and rowdy.
Omnipotente Likembé Konono No. 1 is a band from the Congo. It played music for maybe 30 or 40 years in the street cafés of the capital Kinshasa and now and then toured the country and neighbouring Angola. Outside this region it was virtually unknown. There was only a sound recording made in 1978 by France Culture. It was this to which Vincent Keris, a Belgian music producer and former punk musician, finally lent his ears. To get them back he travelled to the Congo several times, till finally he found them with the band and its 73 year-old leader, Mawangu Mingiedi.
Thanks to his effort and the new album ‘Congotronics’ the band has become a byword for electronic music from Africa. It now tours the USA, Canada, Japan and Europe. Even Björk has recorded a disc with it:‘What I was languishing for was an acoustic rhythm section of heathen, blissed-out loonies.’ In June they gave a joint concert in New York, and since then the band has gone on to play in London Brussels, Rome and Berlin.
The loudness of the band is due to its having had to compete with Kinshasa’s traffic. To do so it resorted to huge megaphones dating back to the Belgian colonial era. Its homemade equipment of 30 years standing has a good chance of falling apart at the drop of a hat but so has far stayed on its feet and has lent the band its unmistakeable sound. In the middle there are three variously tuned likembés (bass, medium and high) and African thumb pianos. Mawangu Mingiedi raises their volume through amplifiers he has made from the lighting-equipment of junk cars.
The bass likembé threatens the foundations of any building it is played in, but the percussion is a travelling gourmet’s dream, consisting of pots, pans, parts of cars and a microphone carved from wood as a soup-ladle. The result is a heady brew: ‘Archaic songs and drum rhythms, used for millennia to conjure up ghosts, now find their way, powerfully warped and metallically alienated, into the 21st century – a revelation’, wrote Paul Berg’s ghostwriter in the German weekly ‘Die Zeit’.
Before hitting the big time the Omnipotent Kikembé Konono No. 1 played for ritual events like weddings, burials and circumcisions in Kinshasa and surroundings. Mingiedi explained the band’s name to a journalist: ´When a person dies, the body freezes," Mingiedi explains. "You need to apply a kind of lotion to loosen up the body for burial. The frozen body is known as konono.´
These deadbeats are now celebrated by music critics all round the world and are likened to John Cale, Captain Beefheart, the Aphex Twins, German Krautrock of the 70s or Kraftwerk and the early Can. Mingiedi could hardly care less: ´I didn´t know there was such a thing as electronic music,´ says Mingiedi. ´I play authentic music, traditional music and I don´t borrow from anyone. My music lives independently from current trends.´
This artist took part in the following project(s) organized/funded by the culturebase.net partner institutions.
Festival of Electronic Music
(27 November 07 - 01 December 07)