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Konono No.1 – Assume Crash Position

"Assume Crash Position"

Konono No.1 – Assume Crash Position
24 June 2010, 10:00 Written by Ash Akhtar
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As the World Cup shines its bright, burning light down on Africa, football frenzy grips the planet in a clutch of patriotism, casual racism and animated passion. It also means that suddenly, everything is themed ‘African’. Yes, with ‘African style’ barbeque packs on sale at butchers, Vuvuzelas widely available on the streets of South West London, and African music blaring out of Starbuck’s coffee shops across the land – all eyes are gazing upon this vast continent enveloped by a media frenzy that focuses on the struggle and plight of the sporting nations and people of South Africa.

The strange thing, though, is that all things ‘African’ tends to be lumped generically under a singular word. Though various teams from the Africa Cup Of Nations are playing (Cameroon, Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa, Algeria, Ivory Coast), they are still all ‘African’ teams. The sheer size of the continent’s diversity incomprehensible, and its myriad cultures simply indigestible to traditional media.

And so it is with Konono No 1. Born from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in Central Africa, the band started recording in 2002 with producer Vincent Kenis. The band, however, formed some time in the 1960s when still called Zaire. Though the country is entrenched with violence, war and border skirmishes, the music of Konono No 1 is generally dramatically polar in its observation of celebration and harmony.

With founder Mawangu Mingiedi using an amped, fuzzed-out likembé (a thumb piano that can be found at any self-respecting ‘alternative’ festival) across debut Congotronics, this expansive band have now incorporated guitars, bass and extra drummers. Unfortunately, it’s not always to great effect. Though the hypnotic jams the band thrive on are still evident, they do not provide the backbone of Assume Crash Position. A track like ‘Fula Fula’ still fulfils Konono No 1′s original purpose and direction, but – mostly – the new material is not a great success.

The sole song to be titled in English, ‘Thin Legs’ is an excursion for vocals and rolling drums and is a curiously short two minutes. Far more successful are the longer pieces like ‘Konono Wa Wa Wa’ and ‘Makembe’ which seem to embody this hip folk music of the people of DRC. With a DIY ethic firmly in place (the group also use junkyard scrap for instruments) in a country where the average annual wage is under £600, it’s no surprise that there are a variety of Konono bands playing in DRC (this serves to explain why Konono No 1 are named as such).

Closing track ‘Nakobala Lisusu Te’ is a five minute piece for voice and likembé and is a rather mournful ending for what could have been a storming second album for the group. A group to be savoured live, Assume Crash Position does not so much cement the individual nature of this theatrical band, as it sees them relinquish part of their individual make-up – perhaps with an outlook to appeal to a wider audience.

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