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Title: Live at Couleur Café
Artist: Konono No. 1
Label: Crammed Discs

Konono No 1 are an extraordinary band – a mix of the rawest and most unpredictable distorted sounds using whatever came to hand on the outskirts of Kinshasa - from pots to car parts and the tight consistency demanded by their soukous base. In a very few years in the public eye they’ve captured audiences at festivals all over especially in the US, UK and Belgium, recorded a track with Björk and been aligned with Hendrix, Can and Lee Perry.

Originally seen as a hindrance due to necessary improvisation and crude amplification, the distortion and found-object percussion are an essential part of K No 1’s sound, as they play in front of a wall of speakers experimental rock style. Founder Mawangu Mingiedi is a Likembé specialist (metallic thumb piano/Sanza) and three of these are the core of K No 1’s sound alongside compelling solo and call’n’response vocals that seem to come from all sides, in a rougher mode than most current Congolese product – think early Swede Swede meets dance hall. Founded 30 years ago, the band makes its own rules!

This album, recorded live at one of Brussels’ most exciting festivals, is a celebration of K No 1’s emergence. It’s mostly new numbers apart from Kule Kule and Mama Liza (featured on their debut BBC world music award-winning Congotronics album) and Nsimba & Nzuzi.(released digitally) which create a recognition zone for fans. Producer Vincent Kenis (Zap Mama,Taraf de Haïdouks & Koçani Orkestar - you get the picture) has kept the live edges with a studio sheen, running tacks into each other without a break. It’s hypnotizing, with the set building trance-wise subtly changing the intrinsic sounds and rhythms as it grows – the music originates from Bazombo Trance music of the musicians’ home villages near Angola/DRC border. In that respect it’s hard to identify standout tracks as even a casual listen makes you dance literally or mentally and an hour just goes! Zey Isa Langa just gets faster and faster at the heart of the CD building out of the earlier tracks and after that there’s no holding back.

This repetition has divided critics, - some of whom much prefer Kenis’ studio-produced Congotronics – and it’s true that’s hard to top, nevertheless Live at Couleur Café earned a 2007 Grammy nomination for Best Traditional World Music album. Intriguing as that recognizes that traditional is now firmly electronically based! Seek it out to make up your own mind - remember to play it loud!

Debbie Golt