Review: Konono No. 1 @ Rich Mix (London, 30th July 2016)

The Grammy award winning group Konono No. 1 was formed in Congo in the late 1960s. Their distinctive sound is driven by three likembas (bass, medium and treble thumb pianos). What separates them from so many traditional acts is the rudimentary, homemade amplification of the likembas. This sound is also known as Congotronics; essentially traditional ‘bush’ music electrified.

It’s a sound that hasn’t been and probably can’t be replicated. The homemade amplification, counterpoint polyrhythms and steady techno-like beats allow the crowd to immerse themselves in the dance and the party. Its small wonder that Konono No. 1 are so popular with rock and electronic music crowds in the west as well as exuberant wedding parties in their home town, Kinshasa.

From the start of their set at the Rich Mix, the energy was high. The reason for this music is clear: entertainment and joy. The shy, awkward female singer I met in the green room turned into a hip shaking extrovert on stage, energising both the band and crowd. Each song, based around a simple tune, seemed improvisatory as the band fed off the growing energy of the crowd. The Congolese are past masters of understated hype, it was clear that this band was there to make people happy.

Recent collaborations with Mbongwana Star and Batida ensured there were plenty of eager fans to witness the rare treat of Konono No. 1 on their three day tour of Europe that included dates in Portugal, WOMAD and London before flying back to Kinshasa on the fourth day! Thank you guys!