Local Wire

Konono No. 1

Konono No. 1 is from the Congo, and they make music unlike anything you've ever heard. Their music is based on the sound of the mingiedi, the Congolese thumb piano, also known as the kalimba and sanza. Band leader Mawangu Mingiedi moved to Kinshasa (Congo's capital) in the '70s and started this band to play Bazombo trance music, a style played at the funerals in his home village. (Konono translates as "dead body.") People couldn't hear his mingiedi over the noise of the city, so he built an amplifier that attracted other musicians interested in the unique overtones the amps produced with feedback and distortion. Thirty years later, with sons and grandsons in the band, Konono has become a world phenomenon, a link between the folk music of Africa and the electronic dance music of today. The band's three mingiedis — bass, tenor and treble — lay down sinuous, ever-shifting rhythmic patterns complemented by percussionists playing hubcaps and garbage pans, as well as traditional hand-on-skin drums. The music has the swing of soukous, the raw energy of early James Brown-style funk, a dizzying swirl of rhythmic electronic noise full of buzzing overtones, and an irresistible excitement generated by the singing, clapping and whistle blowing of the vocalists. Echoes of Africa, Cuba, and Brazil spin through the music, flavored by hints of the minimalism of Steve Reich and the industrial noise of Einstürzende Neubauten, ideas that may have actually come from Africa, if Konono No. 1 is any indication.