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 reward—lest you think a lo-fi, truly DIY ethic means nothing today.