No Context Needed for Konono No. 1's Congolese Grooves

Konono No. 1

Assume Crash Position (Crammed Discs)

The second U.S. studio album from this Congolese street-music ensemble is evidence that world music—a woefully inadequate tag in the first place—doesn't have to be the polite sonic wallpaper promulgated by Ry Cooder. Buena Vista Social Club is a brilliant, beautiful collection, but it feels like a museum piece; the recent deluge of obscure rock records from Southeast Asia and Western Africa tends toward exotica, valued for being both alien and familiar to American listeners. Konono No. 1, on the other hand, makes vital, vibrant music that's neither traditional nor pop. What it sounds like is the soundtrack to the 21st century.

The 12-piece group, led by the septuagenarian Mawangu Mingiedi, features traditional Congolese thumb pianos called likembé—tiny, handmade instruments—and junkyard percussion, all amplified with makeshift electronics. The amplification propels the trancelike songs, built on group chants and short, overlapping rhythm patterns, above the noise of the streets and bars in Kinshasa, where the group has performed since the 1960s. Assume Crash Position is a step up from 2005's bare-bones Congotronics, but not by much—it's still a rough recording. It's also not like much else you've ever heard. But you don't really need context to appreciate its grooves.