Event Review: Kongo Dia Ntotila @ Rich Mix (London; 24th May 2018)

From the first jazz-solo drum rhythms of David Lessie that opened the show, to the cyclical afro-lead from John Kelly’s guitar, every beat of each song resonated throughout the grooving crowd, and certainly through band leader Mulele Matondo, who I’m sure jived to every single note of the show, constantly energised.

This is the much-awaited album launch from Kongo Dia Ntotila, entitled 360°. Virtuosic musicians from London and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the band aims to defy western ideas of genres that classify and divide African music. It is Matondo’s belief that all music can be followed 360°, and the final destination will always be Africa, thus African music cannot be dissociated with western music, as it often is with terminology such as ‘world music’.

360° indeed, we are taken around the musical make-up of Africa, from kasai inspired blues from the Congo to the kayindula genre of Zambia, and from reggae, to the agbaja rhythms of Ghana, Kongo Dia Ntotila bring ‘Afro-joy’ to East London.

Powerful, complex rhythms and melodies explode with energy from the stage; Will Scott and Mike Soper provide saxophone and trumpet, elaborating the smooth jazz overtones, and there are exquisite, skilled solos from each band member, including the new guitarist from Kinshasa, Sakuba.

For those audience members lucky enough to understand some of the lyrics, they resonate with a social voice and a political edge: “Stand up, African people, let us rise up, against injustice“, echoes ‘Naleli’, the reggae track on the album.

No matter how serious the commentary, the grooves are constantly infectious and upbeat, providing a floor to fill with dancing, smiles and laughters the whole evening.

The show is sprinkled with live improvisations – at one point, there’s a dancing competition on stage – and fuelled by enthusiastic cries from the audiences, then later a Rich Mix sized conga line dominates the dancing space; an audience afro-hypnotised by the band.

The evening is joyful, happy and socially conscious. The new album promises to be an intricate African celebration of music for all, while the live performances are full of fire and fun!