The result of this handmade electronic gear is a sound with a good deal of distortion, something prized in general in many African traditions. But here it's taken to a new level. The amplified likembes sound something like electric guitars, something like xylophones, something like car horns. They're woven into a dense web of traditional percussion rhythms that both overwhelms hearers and draws them deeper into its intricacies. The tradition on which Konono No. 1 draws was originally intended as trance music, and I'd expect its music in person (this is its first visit to the United States) to be very loud, intense, and capable of taking over one's consciousness for a while.
The roots-electronics aspect of Konono No. 1's music has created a certain amount of buzz among young people who spend nights filled with progressive electronic dance music. But really this is not the "Congotronics" that the title of Konono No. 1's Belgian-released album proclaims. Instead, what's happening at the Ark on Monday, November 14, is a rare chance to hear some music with roots in a rural African setting, adapted for urban uses in a jerry-rigged but tradition-sensible way.
[Review published November 2005]