Kid Sister, Konono No. 1 Critic's Choice Early Warnings (Music) Free Recommended Soundboard

When: Mon., July 19, 6:30 p.m. 2010

It's almost certainly impossible for Congolese likembe band Konono No. 1 to strike Western ears as a dazzling revelation with the new Assume Crash Position, not the way they did when they broke out internationally five years ago—especially since their label, Crammed Discs, has since released recordings by other Kinshasa bands, like the Kasai All-Stars and Staff Benda Bilili, that also update traditional styles with jerry-rigged amplification and homemade instruments. But for their second proper album Konono No. 1 have updated their sound, albeit subtly; working again with producer Vincent Kenis, they've added electric bass, guest vocalists, and deep in the mix some electric guitars (including a cameo by Manuaku Pepe Felly of Zaiko Langa Langa). The band's founder, Mawangu Mingiedi, has built a number of new likembes, tuned differently to increase the music's range of tone colors and harmonies (their thumb pianos tend to have at most a dozen or so keys apiece), and for the first time Konono has used conventional amplifiers in addition to their own gear, which reins in the frying distortion that helped define the band's sound, making those extra notes a bit easier to hear. But the frenetic, kaleidoscopic grooves that give Konono such spell-casting power remain. When the group debuted in Chicago five years ago, the songs all stretched far longer than their album versions, and though the players themselves were hardly dynamic onstage, if you were watching them instead of surrendering your higher brain functions to the dense throb of the music, you were missing the point: this is street-party stuff, and your attention is supposed to be on all the other dancing bodies around you. The new record may be a little cleaner and more varied in sound, but nothing has changed at its heart. Konono also plays Tuesday at Empty Bottle. —Peter Margasak

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