Release Date: Apr 29, 2016
Record label: Crammed Discs
This collaborative album between Congolese trance collective Konono No 1 and Angolan/Portuguese beat maker Batida is a triumphant pairing of divergent musical cultures. On paper it seems an incongruous match-up: Konono’s No 1’s music is based around the hypnotic qualities of their discordant likembe thumb pianos and mass chants, whilst Batida’s brand of techno channels the modern, digitised rhythms of contemporary Angola. Lacking a common language (they were forced to communicate via sign language) the sessions – recorded in a garage on the outskirts of Lisbon – have nevertheless resulted in a winning hybrid of styles.
The experimental "Kinshasa meets Lisbon" pairing of Congolese band Konono N°1 and Angolan/Portuguese artist Batida (aka Pedro Coquenão) just works. There's always been a delightful DIY feel to the innovative low-tech/hi-fi amplification of Konono N°1's "Congotronics" sound; paired with electronic music producer Batida, there's a renewed urgency on their collaborative new LP, Konono N°1 meets Batida. The eight-track project manages to mesh the collective's more fluid approach to rhythm and cadence with Batida's more rigid metronomic flow: the electric, likembé-driven "Nlele Kalusimbiko" invigorates, as does the frenetic tempo of head-nodder "Tokolanda.
Konono No. 1 Meets Batida is the first full-scale collaborative album by the world-renowned Congolese percussion ensemble, as well as the long-running group's first recording since the 2015 death of Mingiedi Mawangu, who founded the group back in the '60s. Ever since the 2004 release of Konono's debut studio album, Congotronics, the collective has earned widespread admiration from alternative, experimental, and electronic music communities due to their D.I.Y.
Although one should never underestimate the international pleasures of the big beat, Western festival enthusiasm for Kinshasan percussion ensemble Konono Nº1 remains a rather unlikely success story. Especially since nobody can quite agree on what to call their specific musical brand. Forget genre — Wikipedia essentially throws up its hands to heaven, currently linking to an entry for Trance (“a genre of electronic music that developed during the 1990s in Germany”) and a citation-lacking “bazombo.
Kinshasa’s Konono No 1 remain one of the most exhilarating live acts in the world. Last year, they transformed Cafe Oto, London’s usually thoughtful home of improvised music and other radical fringes, into a sweaty, heaving celebratory dancehall. That this metamorphosis took place in spite of repeated technical problems with the amplification of one of the band’s likembes (the thumb pianos that define their sound and approach) is testament to the resilient, insistent power of their hypnotic grooves.
Congotronics, the 2004 album by the Congolese ensemble Konono No. 1, resonated with Western ears in part because it didn't hew cleanly to any one region or genre. Sure, they deployed traditional instrumentation, but their likembés were amplified via car batteries as well as percussion hammered out on scrap metal. The scrappiness and noisiness seemed to situate them along a punk and industrial axis rather than a world music one: Konono No.
In a 2014 book chapter titled 'Africa=Recycling: Continuities And Discontinuities In The Reception Of African Contemporary Art', Victoria L Rovine addresses the use of repurposed materials by high-profile artists like El Anatsui and Patrick Mulondo, seeing this "recyclia" as a question of authenticity. The implication, Rovine suggests, is that recyclia exists to fulfil a demand in the global art market, a left-liberal appetite for the local and the DIY in art from developing countries. It's tempting to see Congolese collective Konono No.1 as a musical equivalent, a group whose repurposing of pots, pans and car parts salvaged on the streets of Kinshasa has been central to its widely mediated image.