Music for Driving

Back in the early nineties I always used to listen to drum & bass whenever I was driving anywhere….. It served me & my subwoofer well until (a) someone broke into my car & stole my subwoofer and (b) I lost my license for six months due to excessive speeding tickets…. I couldnt fault their logic (the police/not the thieves) as people die on our roads all the time; if I invented a teleporting system that had the failure/death rate of our cars, no one would buy it… and yet we let kids (& incompetent adults) loose with loaded guns, for better or worse… In my case, my worst, no one died or was even harmed – it was purely academic, but in the end I put it down to the music: jump in the car, put on a Doc Scott, Boymerang or Photek tune & before you blink i’m doing 130kph down the motorway, fully in control… but weird people in uniforms, armed with speed cameras, tended to disagree with me & as it turns out they have the right of way…

Anyway, a decade older (& one would hope wiser) I recently found a CD that can stay pretty much permanently in my cars CD player: and best of all I dont seem to get speeding tickets from it….. And that album is a compilation called Congotronics, vol.2

The Daily Telegraph sum it up reasonably well; “Konono No 1 hail from the impoverished suburbs of one of the world’s most dangerous cities – the Congolese capital, Kinshasa. And if globalisation and digitalisation are reducing the musics of the world to a homogenised aural goo, no one has told them that. Employing three amplified “likembe” thumb pianos, percussion improvised from car parts, traditional drums and vocals bawled through megaphones, they make furiously intense urban trance music to which a degree of frantic buzzing distortion is entirely integral. The likembes’ liquid tones are amplified into a booming heavy-industrial rasp, the hammering syncopations held in a constantly shifting balance with the speaker-shuddering percussion – the music progressing in great surges of excitement, whistles blasting and dozens of people joining in the call and response singing.”

The good old New York times carries on “The band plays curious instruments that resemble children’s toys; its cymbals look like smashed hub caps; its sound is harsh and otherworldly. But what really makes “Congotronics” (Crammed Discs), the debut album by the African band Konono No. 1, one of the most startling of recent world-music releases – and drawn comparisons to the German electronic-music pioneers Kraftwerk and the reggae producer Lee Perry – is the amplification system the band has used for the last 30 years.

Konono No. 1, a 12-piece group led by the septuagenarian Mawangu Mingiedi, performs in outdoor cafes in Kinshasa, Congo. To make its traditional trance music heard above the roar of the traffic-choked streets, it amplifies its toylike likembés, or thumb pianos, using pick-up microphones made from the magnets in car alternators and loudspeakers left behind by Belgian colonists in 1960. The squalling feedback this lo-fi system produces is worked into the polyrhythmic drumming and call-and-response chanting to create a brutal, neotraditional genre Kinshasa’s musicians call tradi-moderne.

“When I encountered it, I thought it was the equivalent of punk music in Africa,” said Vincent Kenis, a Brussels-based producer who first heard Konono No. 1 on a French radio station in 1980. “From then it took me 10 years to go to Kinshasa and look for them and another 10 years to find them.” He finally tracked down the band in 2000 and discovered it sounded just as it had 20 years before: no equipment had been replaced.

“Congotronics” was recorded outdoors using an Apple laptop and a handful of microphones, and was mixed in Mr. Kenis’s hotel room with members of the band. It has sold 15,000 copies worldwide, a respectable number for such an esoteric record….”

Check it out: Congotronics: Volume One (Konono No.1) here Volume Two (CD & DVD) here

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