It’s rare, but sometimes music appears that is so different, so strange, so removed from your musical experience, yet so jaw dropping that it stops you dead in your tracks. Konono No 1’s debut album 2004’s Congotronics 1 was a raw hypnotic electronic trance music that was as rickety as it was beguiling. It seemed to reference everything from Krautrock to Calypso music to electro acoustic experimentation, all approached with a joyous and infectious abandon. Of course it referenced nothing of the sort because its participants had never heard these genres, rather Konono No1 who hail from Congo, close to the border with Angola were attempting to play traditional Bazombo trance music. Their unique sound stemmed from their desire to amplify their likembe’s (thumb piano), using homemade microphones plugged into shitty amplifiers. It distorted everything, offering a warm layer of fuzz to their sounds.
Since then they’ve toured the world, released a live album and guested on Bjork’s last album. Pretty good for a band that began 44 years ago. Assume Crash Position is their second studio album, and sees some changes. Not only is the percussion much more developed, pushed further out front, so too are the call and response vocals often from guest musicians and there’s even some guitar courtesy of their much more scattered compatriots Kasai Allstars. It’s seems the band are really trying to demonstrate some development from their debut, and they’ve succeeded. However this more familiar instrumentation whilst increasing the diversity of approaches has to some extent reduced the freak factor, a very attractive element of Konono No1’s appeal. Yet ultimately the sheer exuberance of their music dispels these concerns. It’s still a pumping buzzing vibrant album with plenty of their trademark off kilter jams, yet they’ll also dip down into quieter more intimate passages, and it’s with these developments that the new rewards come. It’ll still drop your jaw, just in different ways.
Bob Baker Fish