Artist: Konono No1
Label: Crammed Discs
Chances are, you've never heard of a musical instrument called a likembe. However, chances are, you HAVE heard of a thumb piano (if not, google it). They are, in fact, the same thing. Combine them with some truly DIY amplification systems and add in group singing/chanting as well as seemingly random muscial additions from passers-by and you have the amazing album, Congotronics.
As a group, Konono No1 has been making music in the streets of the Republic of Congo since the early 1970's. As time went on, the group realized that they needed to find a way to amplifiy their instruments. Beginning with rugged speakers and batteries and then moving on to small PA's powered by car batteries, the group began to get a following.
The only instruments that are truly "mic'd" are the trio of likembe while the rest of the instruments (pots, pans, whistles, whatever was around) are picked up by a few crude microphones. This mixture creates a very "garage band" feeling whilst holding onto the traditional sounds of the music.
At times, the record almost seems to be in pure chaos as the myriad of musicians seem to all be in their own world. Somehow though, it forms a single, brilliant tune. It you let the album take you, you will no doubt find yourself standing on a street corner in Africa watching this amazing display of group music creation. The album is part rumba, part electronica, part afrobeat, part prog-rock, but absolutely all masterful musicianship.
Truly, it is nearly impossible to accurately explain the sonic mural found on Congotronics. To understand and appreciate this album, you honestly have to hear it for yourself...so go get it!
NOTE: You can also find Konono No1 backing Björk on her song "Earth Intruders."
Standout tracks: "Lufuala Ndonga," "Kule Kule," and "Paradiso."