Kasai Allstars

In the 7th Moon, the Chief Turned Into a Swimming Fish and Ate the Head of His Enemy by Magic
(Crammed)

From the Democratic Republic of Congo — where, in the words of Spin writer Eric Pape, a "culture of corruption, moral decay, and negligible resources has created a music scene that can best be described as Darwinian . . . an absurd world where even the biggest pop stars feel compelled to offer tributes to regional warlords" — what's a little exported thumb piano? With a title whose length casts an evocative tint on the music, the third entry in the Congotronics series also comes bundled with imperialist concerns. The Kasai Allstars — assembled in the Congo capital of Kinshasa by Belgian producer Vincent Kenis and highlighting the music of five different Congolese tribes (Songye, Lulua, Tetela, Luba, and Luntu) — are pure fusion. But that's globalization for you. And so is the angle that got American listeners excited about Congotronics to begin with: the clever (and accurate) branding that associated the warm, metallic grids of those thumb pianos (likembes) with repetitive electronic music.

On that front, 7th Moon doesn't disappoint a bit. "Mbua-A-Matumba," one of two extended story-songs, builds to a meticulously arranged climax, vocal counter-rhythms and likembe marbling patiently around one another; a similar, even drummier explosion occurs on the ecstatic "Drowning Goat (Mbuji-Mayi)." Even the electric guitars shimmer, peeling small figures (and recalling Baltimore guitartistes Ecstatic Sunshine) on "Mpombo Yetu" and elsewhere. Only the mostly a cappella "Tshitua Fuila Mbuloba," though gorgeous, fails to evoke the gliding, otherworldly quality of fish in the moonlight — or whatever other transliteration you'd care to invent.

 
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