Though Westerners find exotic thrills in a Congolese band that electrifies traditional instruments with junkyard scraps, Konono No 1 are seen by their countrymen only as Angolan-border refugees and unschooled day laborers. Formed in the early '80s, K1 adopted the speedy rumba shuffle that was later heard in more popular soukous but without its high-register guitars or clear production. Instead, their calling cards were shouted vocals, electrified kalimbas (thumb pianos) wired to used car parts, a pots-and-pans rhythm section, and megaphone loudspeakers: As such they have as much connection with Einstürzende Neubauten as with Tabu Ley.
K1's recording career began only recently, when producer Vincent Kenis brought them to Holland for a 2003 show, recorded and released by Dutch agit-punks the Ex as Lubuaku (Terp). But while that release suffered from a tepid pace and distant audio, a 2002 show that Kenis himself recorded in Kinshasa on his laptop became the more representative Congotronics. Seven soukous-length jams fill 50 minutes, and the songs are far from indistinct: While "Lufala Ndonga" and "Mama Liza" start and end the set with the frenzy and locomotion of prime '70s Miles or a Krautrock jam, "Kule Kule" sports more playful rhythms, and "Musikulu" and "Paradiso" feature a bass-rattling bottom, perfect for sampling. Also, the stinging sound that leader-soloist Mawangu Mingiedi gets from his kalimba sounds as garage as anything Little Steven's broadcast. A European tour with Tortoise and a split single on Fat Cat are K1's rewardlest you think a lo-fi, truly DIY ethic means nothing today.
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.