Release Date: May 19, 2015
Record label: Atlantic
In Lingala, the main spoken language in the city of Kinshasa besides the imperial French, ‘Mbongwana’ means ‘change’. The hippest corners of the west are currently in the throes of a passionate one way affair with music from all corners of the African continent, discovering countless vintage chunks of funk and afrobeat from Nigeria and Ghana, wedding party music from Egypt, or desert blues from Mali. Historically, the gigantic and wild regions around the Congo river in central Africa (now mostly the DRC and Rep of Congo) have produced musicians that have travelled freely around the continent, nomadically contributing to its many musics - perhaps most famously the fingerpicking guitar style that typifies sub-Saharan music.
The video for Mbongwana Star’s debut single, Malukayi, was a mysterious and rather compelling thing. Figures loom out of a low-lit, smoke-wreathed gloom: a dancer, a frantic percussionist, a couple of middle-aged men in wheelchairs, and, most intriguingly, a spaceman wandering the streets of Kinshasa. The latter seemed like the perfect metaphor for a track that seemed to have fallen out of the sky, that somehow managed to be both identifiably Congolese – you can’t mistake the amplified likembes of guest stars Konono No 1 – and utterly unlike anything else the fertile Kinshasa music scene had yet produced: hypnotic rhythm patterns that clattered and echoed as if they were being played at the end of a vast tunnel; vocals coated with so much distortion they sounded like something picked up on a shortwave radio; a beautiful, keening male voice marooned over spacey electronics and mournful gusts of feedback to eerie effect.
Kinshasa has now firmly stated its claim to be one of the world’s most important cities for music, by way of the Congotronics project (bringing the extraordinary, physical and impulsive music of Konono No 1 to a worldwide audience) and the massive success of Staff Benda Bilili. The latter success story initially proved to be one of the most heartwarming in the history of African music, as a band of street musicians, some part paralysed by polio, became a global sensation delivering a passionate and life affirming live show that invoked adoration and joy wherever they travelled. Tragically, their tale later morphed into something wholly dispiriting, as the cynicism and competition of the international music industry caused the band to collapse in financial and managerial dispute.
It’s been a good few months for music originating from the African continent. Alongside African Express’ superbly vibrant re-imagining of Terry Riley’s minimalist benchmark In C, Bassekou Koyate and Ngoni Ba, Tony Allen and Songhoy Blues have all put out excellent and forward -gazing records, with the latter’s hopped-up reboot of Tinariwen-patented desert blues proving particularly irresistible. A couple of spins of From Kinshasa, and those triumphs suddenly sound a bit too predictably tied up to tradition.
Staff Benda Bilili were the Congolese collective of street musicians who briefly lit up the music world with their unique brand of rumba, before imploding under the weight of their success and amid a fallout of financial acrimony. It was a sorry end to a literal rags-to-riches story, so the announcement that former members Coco Ngambali and Theo Nzonza were returning with a new project, Mbongwana Star, was cause for celebration in itself. Better news still is that the band, who alongside Ngambali and Nzonza consist of a clutch of young Kinshasa musicians and Parisian hip-hop producer Liam Farrell, are much more than just a re-booted Benda Bilili.
The term “world music,” ick — a marketer’s desperate pitch more than tangible genre, suggesting either Yankee provincialism (there’s Americana, British rock, and, um, The World) or the earnest intentions of Putumayo compilations and didgeridoo fans. If the latter sounds appealing, the ….
You know about the big releases each week, but what about the smaller albums which may have passed underneath your radar? We’ve rounded up five of the best new album releases from this week, from Alden Penner’s idiosyncratic oddities to TAU’s Aztec-inspired psychedelia: don’t miss out. Mbongwana Star – ‘From Kinshasa’Congolese musicians Coco Ngambali and Theo Nzonza were living with polio on the streets of their country’s capital Kinshasa until the success of their band Staff Benda Bilili took them around the world in 2009. When that group split in 2013, Coco and Theo launched Mbongwana Star.
Over the past few years, Kinshasa has established itself as a city where otherworldly bands rise out of its innumerable slums, hit the international scene with a scrap-heap adapted bang and then become recycled as younger, more streetwise members take control. Highlights have included Jupiter Bolondji, a stalwart bandleader who toured Africa for decades before his ever expanding group, Okwess International, released Hotel Univers to critical acclaim in 2013. Bolondji was a key name to be headhunted for DRC Music, a 2011 Damon Albarn/Warp Records collaboration which exploited the earthy, mysterious excitement that Kinshasa holds in its belly.
Mbongwana Star FROM KINSHASA. Mbongwana Star, a band from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, radically upends expectations of Congolese music; “mbongwana” means “change” in Lingala, a Congolese lingua franca. Its album “From Kinshasa” (World Circuit/Nonesuch) is a world away from the ….