From the Democratic Republic of Congo—where in the words of Spin writer Eric Pape, a “culture of corruption, moral decay, and negligible resources has created a music scene that can best be described as Darwinian . . . an absurd world where even the biggest pop stars feel compelled to offer tributes to regional warlords”—what’s a little exported thumb piano? With a title whose sheer length casts an evocative tint over the music, the third entry in the Congotronics series also comes bundled with imperialist concerns. The Kasai Allstars—assembled in the Congo capital of Kinshasa by Belgian producer Vincent Kenis and highlighting the music of five different Congolese tribes (Songye, Lulua, Tetela, Luba, and Luntu)—are pure fusion. But that’s globalization for you. And so is the angle that got American listeners excited about Congotronics to begin with: the clever (and accurate) branding that associated the warm, metallic grids of those thumb pianos (or likembes) with repetitive electronic music.
On that front, 7th Moon doesn’t disappoint a bit. “Mbua-A-Matumba,” one of two extended story-songs, builds to a meticulously arranged climax, vocal counter-rhythms and likembe marbling patiently around one another; a similar, even drummier explosion occurs on the ecstatic “Drowning Goat (Mbuji-Mayi).” Even the electric guitars shimmer, peeling small figures (and recalling Baltimore guitartistes Ecstatic Sunshine) on “Mpombo Yetu” and elsewhere. Only the mostly a cappella “Tshitua Fuila Mbuloba,” though still gorgeous, fails to achieve the gliding, otherworldly quality of fish in the moonlight—or whatever other transliteration you’d care to invent.