Konono No. 1 | Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Konono No. 1

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This Congolese group from the impoverished suburbs of Kinshasa has existed in fits and starts for more than 25 years—just long enough to become one of the most unlikely success stories of 2005. The best-known musical export of the Democratic Republic of the Congo is still soukous, a silky and elegant Cuban-flavored dance style, but Konono No. 1 (which is short for Orchestre Tout Puissant Likembe Konono No. 1) have made an impact playing a raw, noisy variant of the traditional matanga funeral music of the Zombo tribe. The core instruments in matanga are thumb pianos called likembes, and because Konono regularly played noisy parties they began to use handmade pickups, battered effects boxes, and amps powered by car batteries to crank up the likembes' hypnotizing grooves till they glowed fiercely with distortion. One likembe plays rhythm, another jumps out front with simple improvised melodic figures, and a third churns out bass tones that bring to mind the looping, liquid throb of techno. The beats come from a motley assortment of hand and kit drums, including a hi-hat made from a chewed-up cymbal and a hubcap, and the lead singer uses a wooden microphone that incorporates magnets from used car parts to pump his half of the chanted call-and-response vocals through an ancient PA system with megaphone-style speakers. Belgian producer Vincent Kenis captured Konono in their natural environment on Congotronics (Crammed Discs), using a laptop to record them outdoors in Kinshasa, and it's a fantastic album, suggesting to Western ears an Africanized mix of electronica and punk rock. But the live disc Lubuaku (Terp), recorded in a Dutch club, proves they can survive the transition to a modern sound system with much of their lacerating energy intact—and this music is definitely meant to be experienced face-to-face. The Eternals and DJ Jerome Derradji open. Fri 11/11, 8:30 PM, Logan Square Auditorium, 2539 N. Kedzie, 773-276-3600 or 866-468-3401, $20 in advance, $22 at the door. All ages.

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