The very un-Democratic Republic Of Congo currently hosts our planet's gravest ongoing human rights tragedy. Yet the ills of civil war have not stopped Congo 's citizens making music - as Zaire the nation hosted one of Africa 's hottest scenes - and none are currently more innovative than Konono No 1. Mixing a traditional thumb piano with instruments created out of salvage, this fusion forces Congolese music into experimental terrain and Konono No1 create dissonant, fabulously polyrhythmic, 21st Century African music. Who are Konono No1? How did they create such a wired, unholy sound? Formed 25 years ago, Konono No 1 are a Kinshasa band playing a form of Angolan/Congolese trance music based around the sound of the likembe (a traditional instrument sometimes called "sanza" or "thumb piano", consisting of metal rods attached to a resonator). Yet poverty and a brilliant concept of recycling saw Konono No1 build a sound like nothing ever heard before. The band's line-up includes three electric likembés (bass, medium and treble), equipped with hand-made microphones built from magnets salvaged from old car parts, and plugged into amplifiers. There's also a rhythm section that uses traditional as well as makeshift percussion (pans, pots and car parts), three singers, three dancers and a sound system which involves blasting the music through megaphones. The musicians come from the Congo and Angola border region. Konono No1's repertoire draws largely on Bazombo trance music but through necessity rather than choice they have been forced to incorporate the originally unwanted distortions of their sound system. This has lead Konono No 1 to develop a unique sonic attack, a loud, harsh, grinding music that spits and feeds back so suggesting Zairian guitar legend Franco jamming with The Velvet Underground. Appropriately, Konono No1's sheets of sound and dissonant distortion have proved a leftfield hit, appealing to avant-rock, experimental music and world music enthusiasts. As the band's thumb pianos and synthesisers crash into sheet metal percussion at a party held in Kinshasa 's shanty towns African dance grooves have rarely sounded so raw and atonal. This is the true metal machine music: Lee Perry and George Clinton never imagined an Afro-cyber futurism quite like Konono No1.
Garth Cartwright