Album Review: Jupiter & Okwess – Kin Sonic [Glitterbeat Records, 7th July 2017]

Fans of contemporary music from the African continent have been blessed in 2017 with releases from Zimbabwe’s Mokoomba and Mali’s Tamikrest and Songhoy Blues – illustrating that there’s a wealth of new artists and contemporary sounds emanating from the continent.

Jupiter & Okwess from the Congo, cement this reputation by turning in a scorching collection on their second album, which features contributions from Damon Albarn and Warren Ellis from Nick Cave’s Bad Seeds.

The brainchild of Jean-Pierre Bokondji, a.k.a. Jupiter, his career path was mapped out for diplomatic service – his father being an attaché in Dar es Salaam and East Berlin. Absorbing the sound of rock, funk, and soul on these travels, Jean-Pierre turned his back and returned to Kinshasa in the early 1980’s, intent on pursuing a career as a musician – homeless and working as a tam-tam drum player at funerals, he picked up the nickname Jupiter.

Addressing the issues of war, corruption, injustice, and poverty, through parables and stories, Kin Sonic uses the dominant musical genre of Congolese rumba and soukous as a starting point before exploring long-forgotten rhythms, tracks flow through different dialects and tribal languages. It’s a record that is expansive and ambitious in its sound and content.

Opening track, ‘Hello’ is a driving, grinding statement, pounding drums and fuzzy, soaring chiming guitars and Jupiter’s strident vocals invites us into this remarkable journey.

A clever change of tone sees Damon Alban’s toy-like, but funky keyboard flourishes on ‘Musonsu’ with its lilting, circular guitar motifs and Mutwashi rhythm. Spiraling, intricate guitars are to the fore on Kin Sonic, they’re a rich and vibrant part of Congolese music, brought to the country by sailors venturing up the Congo River.

The striking album cover may have a familiar graphic look as it has been designed by Massive Attack’s Robert “3D” Del Naja, who donated his fee to a Kinshasa street children’s charity.

It’s a bold musical journey that twists, bends, and morphs Congolese rhythms with adventurous rock. Lead single ‘Ofakombolo’ whips a long two and half minutes of Afro-funk, but shows relentless energy in its motoring funky rhythm guitar work.

There are reflective moments, allowing the album to cool down, such as ‘Benanga’, where spiritual vocals and soulful violin, courtesy of Warren Ellis, lead us to a contemplative mood.

Psychedelic and hypnotic, joyful, uplifting, with raw, fuzzy guitars, this is an album of boldness and ambition, infused with a punk-like energy that breaks and remolds the template for forward thinking, contemporary African music.