It leaves you wanting more. Mission accomplished.
The Democratic Republic Of Congo is a country ravaged by decades of civil war, military coups and disputed elections, not to mention the ongoing pillage of its natural resources and the massacre, rape and torture of its citizens by bands of armed militia. It’s incredible that any contemporary Congolese music has managed to reach Western ears. But we’re lucky that it has, otherwise we’d have been denied the pleasures of Konono No 1’s thrilling Afro-rave cacophony, or Staff Benda Bilili’s exhilarating junkyard bop.
These days a seasoned African adventurer, [b]Damon Albarn[/b] correctly divined that there must be more where Konono and Staff Benda Bilili came from, and so he corralled a posse of British and American electronic producers – among them London techno auteur [b]Actress[/b], [b]Dan The Automator[/b], Orlando Higginbottom aka [a]Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs[/a], and XL label boss and former rave hitmaker [b]Richard Russell[/b] – to join him on a jaunt to the Congo’s capital Kinshasa to make an album with a bunch of crack local musicians. The aim of the mission was two fold: to hip the Western world to the Congo’s extraordinarily vibrant music scene, and to raise money for Oxfam’s humanitarian efforts.
Everyone loves a culture clash, and the first/third world frisson can’t have been too difficult to summon here, what with half the album’s cast arriving iPads-in-hand, while the rest lugged along their homemade drumkits built from old bin lids and discarded fan belts. But ‘[b]Kinshasa One Two[/b]’ is more about parallels than it is about contrasts, and there’s a good reason why Damon chose to surround himself on this trip with a gang of techno and hip-hop heads. Congolese music tends to be loud, percussive and frenetic; when the traditional balaphones or thumb pianos get going, producing a barrage of distorted treble frequencies, it’s like hearing the blurry echoes of an unhinged psychedelic rave.
Damon sings on just the one song, a spacious, muggy duet with Nelly Liyemge called ‘[b]Hallo[/b]’ that’s every bit as haunting as ‘[b]On Melancholy Hill[/b]’. But while you’d always gladly hear more of his wracked falsetto, it’s appropriate that he cedes centre stage to the likes of Bebson, with his hot-tin-roof raps, or Yende Bongongo, who embellishes his sonorous vocal on ‘[b]Lourds[/b]’ with a series of delirious grunts and whoops, or even [a]DRC Music[/a]’s security guard Love, who grabs the mic for 60 seconds of lithe a cappella MCing that would shame all but the most verbally dextrous Jamaican deejays. You finish the record hungry for more of these febrile, insistent Kinshasa sounds – and that, surely, is mission accomplished.