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Various Artists - Congotronics II album review, Plan B Magazine, 2006.

(from Plan B Magazine)

Various Artists
Congotronics 2: Buzz’N’Rumble From The Urban Jungle
(Crammed Discs)
My God, that’s a fucking atrocious title. And it plays into the hands of every smart-arse who’s gonna call this ‘African music for people who don’t like African music’. The idea being that only in the places where this music either rhythmically simulates Western exploration, or sonically strays into noise territory (which must always be a Western thing, obviously) can it interest us – like we need to start slapping down the Can references just to feel we can get close to this, feel at home. Still the myth of the dark heart; still the notion that ‘World Music’ (y’know, as opposed to Our Music) is travel from the safety of your home office. The sleeve and shtick of this, then, is little more than an über-hip, slightly gritty version of one of those page-wide ads in The Guardian for overland trips to the back of beyond that assure you that at no point will you suffer from tourists’ guilt. To which Crammed Discs could quite correctly respond that without them, would I have got to hear this hour of wonder at all?

   Furrymuff, but I hope you can stay mentally limber enough not to let their rock-crit buzzwordiness and natty marketing spoil the mystery and magic contained within this compilation of suburban Kinshasan music. And, to the label’s credit, it’s the variety here that makes the record work, beyond being a dip-in reserve for hip compilations and/or perfect for that end-of-year-chart smugness.
 Last year’s Konono No 1 album was a riot for brain and booty, but this album presents a fuller spectrum of voices and a longer trip around the ‘hood – s’the freshness of the rhythms; the new steps that you and yours are gonna have to work out to entail the pulse of things like Masanka Sankayi’s ‘Wa Muluendu’, which really engrosses, and, far from the noise being overpowering, it’s the crush between distortion and the startling clarity of melodies that makes much of Congotronics so engrossing. Dig Kasai Allstars’ nine-minute monster ‘Kabuangoyi’, for sheer heartstopping beauty; the accordion hooks of Bolya We Ndenge’s ‘Bosamba Ndeke’; the way Sobanza’s ‘Kiwembo’ builds from its fuzztone opening to a rattling cardiac-shot of joy; the plateau of clouded bliss that Basokin’s ‘Mulumi’ lifts you to. Throughout, your urge to decipher and understand has to damn well wait for your brain to stop dancing, but that piqued curiosity should hopefully push us all on to spit out the diseased teat of the Western music industry and open ourselves to human transmissions from further than we’re currently allowed to hear.

   Next time, I want lyric sheets and album deals for everyone, but for now, Congotronics 2 is as good a cheap holiday in someone else’s misery as you’ll find because it always forces you to travel within itself and yourself, which is the only journey that eventually matters. Hear here.


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