Mr Mawangu Mingiedi is an unassuming, slightly tubby, bald man from Kinshasa of, I’m guessing, around 65 years old, dressed neatly in trousers, shirt and braces he stands posing, a little self-consciously perhaps, amongst the tools of his trade – a drum kit, 3 Likembe (basically a thumb piano variant, available in treble, medium and bass variants), various items of percussion which include car parts and other iron objects, as well as more conventional instruments and the fabulously jury-rigged, improvised amplification that was originally cobbled together from whatever was available. Once all the instruments are manned and the three athletic dancers are in place, Mr Mingiedi has a final look around and proceeds to bring the hammer down.
Play this next:
Congotronics by Konono No.1 is a truly remarkable LP from late 2004 on a rather cool label from Belgium, which I snaffled in January 2005. This is traditional percussive, trance-like music being blasted into this century by the unlikely happenstance of the results you get when you dabble with making your own amplification out of car parts. The crash and fuzz which results, just catapults this music from the Congo right up into the forefront of the sounds being pioneered (they thought!) by all manner of various electronic / dance noiseniks across the West. They have released a number of split records with artists like Dead C, which shows this accord clearly.
Devotional music throughout parts of Africa (I don’t know enough about Congolese music to say if it’s particularly true there) trades on the whole idea of dancing / trancing to reach a higher state, just like all those Victorian explorers’ tales of whirling dervishes as well as various fringe Christian sects and this is essentially what we’ve got here, but the electric nature of this music takes it up another level again. I’ve been to enough dance clubs, bought enough techno to know that essentially the same processes are at play – volume, rhythm and repetition in extremis to force the revellers into a different plane of being; even without artificial stimulants.
This is not a quaint ‘oh, aren’t they so ethnic’ African release, this is a full-on, unaggressive but uncompromising, in-your-face experience. Congotronics does not work at all played quietly, it needs the volume to make sense. The LP kicks off with ‘Lufuala Ndonga’, but to be honest there is barely a break, or much discernible difference in the first three tracks which make up side 1 of the LP. ‘Kule Kule’ which starts the second side has a softer, more meditative feel and the second track ‘Paradiso’ starts with what sounds like a Hendrix solo performed on a heavily, heavily distorted Likembe and then really hits out for outer limits from there, with some astonishing drumming. It gets a bit fuzzy towards the end of the LP about what is recorded live, or in the studio – ‘Kule Kule Reprise’ certainly seems to have been recorded in front of an audience.
A word of caution though this is a pretty one-paced LP, some people find it boring – my mother saw Konono No.1 live at a WOMAD festival and really didn’t see what the fuss was about them, although she said the dancing in the audience was really something to behold; so commit at your peril. I like it.
So bring the noise Mr Mingiedi !!