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Album review: Konono No. 1's 'Assume Crash Position'

June 7, 2010 |  7:08 pm

Konono_no_1_240_ You know you're doing something right when your die-hard fans include post-rock pioneers Tortoise, Björk and "Simpsons" creator Matt Groening. Such is the case of Konono No.1, the Congo-based legend that is revered internationally, but largely overlooked in its own Kinshasa neighborhood.

Like Tinariwen, its Malian cognate, Konono No. 1 existed for three decades prior to the world's taking notice, weathering ever-evolving cultural caprices, lineup changes and even a temporary dissolution following former President Mobutu Sese Seko's "authenticité" campaign, which emphasized "traditional music."

Indeed, there's little traditional about Konono's approach to instrumentation: likembes (thumb pianos) rigged to homemade microphones built with junkyard-salvaged magnets, percussion created from pans, pots and discarded car parts, and vocals filtered through megaphones. Briefly punctuating this hypnosis are the shouts of children and the shrieks of whistles, humanistic reminders of the organic and spontaneous.

The leader is a septuagenarian only known as Mingiedi, who closes the second studio album, "Assume Crash Position," with a cragged croon, "I don't feel like getting married any more, because women nowadays think marriage is just a six-month affair." Yet Konono's music is the opposite of transient — it builds on the Bazombo trance music endemic to the band's ancestral home on the border of the Congo and Angola, while weaving a necromantic groove alien to American ears and always singular.

Striking an ideal synthesis between noise, electronic and African music, Konono positions itself for the sound-clash rather than a crash — consider it scrap-heap soul for the polyrhythmically inclined.

—Jeff Weiss 

Konono No. 1
"Assume Crash Position"
Crammed Disc
Three and a half stars (Out of four)

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