This amazing record is the product of utility, coincidence, and accidental discovery as much as it is a product of academic deliberation, and it manages to sound old and traditional even as it is refreshingly (even radically) new and avant-garde. Konono No. 1 was formed in the 1980s by a group of Bazombo musicians, dancers, and singers from the Democratic Republic of Congo to play traditional likembe (thumb piano) music in the streets.
Founded some 25 years ago down on the Congo-Angolan border but now based in the suburbs of Kinshasa, Konono No 1 are an intense, compelling and downright bizarre outfit who seem determined to turn all concepts of classic Congolese pop upside down. There are no lilting guitars, harmony vocals or gentle dance rhythms here, but rather a furious and complex onslaught that could well appeal to followers of experimental rock and electronic dance styles - even though the music is based on traditional African trance songs. The key ingredients are the likembes, the traditional "thumb pianos" (a series of metal rods attached to a resonator) which are then amplified and distorted through a makeshift sound system, along with chanting vocals, whistles and constantly shifting drum patterns.
Congotronics showcases the music of Konono N°1, musicians of the Bazombo ethnic and linguistic subdivision. Stuck on the Congo side of the artificial Congolese/Angolan border, Konono N°1 exacts a blissful, spiritual revenge on the harsh poverty and war that plagues the region, armed with the artful reuse of found magnets, carved wooden microphones, brake-drum snares, and indigenous instruments like the likembé (not unlike the thumb piano). Konono N°1 amplifies their pulsing trance music to the point of distortion, a brighter, punchier variety than the regionally-preferred “buzz” created by West African club owners when they intentionally plunge kitchen knives into the cone of a brand new jukebox speaker.