Review: Mbongwana Star @ (Oval Space (London, 1st November 2015)

This has undoubtedly been Mbongwana Stars’ year. The six-piece hail from Congo and is comprised of Liam Farrell, Ranay Kalambayi, Theo, R9, Coco and Sage. They’ve been going from strength to strength following the release of their debut album ‘From Kinshasa’, earlier this year. The crowd couldn’t miss this opportunity to hear their overdriven afrofunk sound, borrowing from so many eclectic styles, brought to London’s Oval Space.

There was a definite, heavyset, rock’n’roll vibe throughout the show, which, for those familiar with the album made opening track ‘Maluyaki’ virtually unrecognisable. This may have proved a little disappointing for some, as the band detracted from the Congolese Rumba vibe usually showcased by Mbongwana and heavily influenced by Theo and Coco’s former project Staff Benda Bilili. It was refreshing, however, to see that the band hadn’t opted to recreate the album live, instead keeping the crowd on its toes throughout. They reimagined more sombre material like ‘Suzanna’, transforming it into a warped energetic tornado of a track. The newly laden rock’n’roll style was understandable, given the forthcoming legendary status of breakout guitarist R9, who drove each track from strength to strength.

More chilled tracks such as ‘1 Million’, ‘From Kinshasa’ and ‘Masobele’ still kept that unmistakeable Mbongwana sound, a chillingly raw fusion of afrofunk, soukous and everything in between. A few times during the night the tracks were interjected by Theo addressing the crowd is his native French/broken English, humbling us all with his repeated gratitude. Theo is no stranger to getting the crowds going, bringing several women on stage, inviting them to let go and treat the space like the dancehall it is. This reminded us that regardless of evolution in sound direction, Mbongwana are here to give us a roaringly good time.