Congotronics International, “Where’s The One?”
By Andy Beta · May 03, 2022 Merch for this release:
2 x Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD)

So immediate is the serotonin surge that comes from hearing Konono N°1’s amplified kalimbas, it seems like we heard it for the first time yesterday rather than back in 2005, when the group’s debut album Congotronics landed in the West. Noise musicians, adventurous club kids, and world music aficionados alike were all struck by that irreducible brrrungk! It’s a sound both ancient—archeologists have found such tines dating back 1000 years—and futuristic. The intervening years have done little to dampen the thrill.

That buzz of tradition and modernity lies at the heart of Where’s the One?, an electric, convivial, and thoroughly raucous celebration that sloughs off all notions of time, nationality, and distance. Credited to Congotronics International, the all-star supergroup contains members of the original Konono N°1 alongside the likes of Deerhoof, Kasai Allstars, Juana Molina, Wildbirds & Peacedrums, and Skeletons’s Matt Mehlan. Across some 23 tracks, it delivers a messy, sweaty dance party, one with roots stretching back to a European tour entitled Congotronics vs Rockers which was staged 11 years ago. Spacetime becomes a really squishy thing here.

Is it a live document? A studio creation? Yes and no. It feels informal and constructed, spontaneous and practiced, but trying to dissect it all ruins the fun. The album’s title refers to the musicians trying to decide just where the “one” falls, but the title track itself is pure sugar rush, as if simply getting everyone on the same stage generated pure energy, with guitars thrust to the front, riding alongside the locomotive percussion. It’s insightful to hear the dialogue between the musicians sprinkled throughout the set as they figure out rhythms, counts, and more. Live bits bump into studio creations, yet feel inseparable.

Like an amplified Ferris wheel careening off its axis, the amplified kalimba comes to the fore on “Kule Kule Redux,” giving everything a new dimension. There’s a delirious, shredding duet between guitar and kalimba on “For Augustin,” and on “Mulume/Change,” the kalimbas buzz like a hornet’s nest. The group chants atop a tumble of interweaving guitars make the song feel like juju music one minute, angular post-punk the next.

Deerhoof’s Greg Saunier admits to the messiness of making the project cohere: “Real democracy is not utopia. The whole band was based in a struggle to communicate.” “Mulume/ Change” appears to grapple with that process out in the open: “If we stay the same/ What will become of us then?” the lyrics ask. As the big group reaches the end of the song, though, there’s an audible sense of exhaustion, relief, joy, with Congolese traditional, European experimental, and American punk rock getting tangled up in each other. You can’t always tell exactly when or where it all went down, or who made which noise, but Where’s the One nevertheless sounds like a great party.

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