It’s somewhat fashionable these days for electronic musicians to fancy themselves “sound sculptors,” manipulating samples and waveforms to create the perfect kick or snare. But since 2003, Congolese musician Pisco Crane has been honing a percussive sound design practice that’s rooted in the physical rather than the digital, quite literally designing sound by assembling instruments from trash. It’s a creative response to the economic state of affairs in the Congo. After decades of underdevelopment by Belgian colonial looting and violence followed by neocolonial foreign “aid,” the Congolese economy remains largely dependent on mining exports. But Pisco Crane and his band Fulu Miziki find abundance buried under traditional narratives of scarcity, operating under the philosophy that there should be no economic barriers to making music. N’Djila Wa Mudujimu manifests Fulu Miziki’s rhythmic and sonic experimentations in recorded form, a document that testifies to the creativity bursting in the Congo.
Given Fulu Miziki’s legendary street performance chops, it might be tempting to lament the loss of live-ness that comes with recording. Not so with N’Djila Wa Mudujimu. Mixing engineer Jonathan Uliel Saldanha highlights the unique timbre of each percussive hit, recorded at the Nyege Nyege studio in Kampala. Though the work is driven by rhythm, the diversity of frequencies, tones, and colors inherent in these improvised instruments fuses into pure ear candy. “Sebe” is perhaps one of the best examples of this, a track that combines plodding bass with call and response vocals in quasi-unison with metallic plinking, glued together by the mechanical whirring of what seems to be a power drill. While Fulu Miziki draw from the tradition of Congolese pioneers like Konono N°1, the careful attention to each track’s sonic palette rivals that of waveform-bending Ableton wizards like umru.
And given the Afrofuturist flavor of the band’s costume design by Lady Aisha, this record’s resonance with PC Music’s futuristic ethos is actually quite apt. In fact, Fulu Miziki might stake a more legitimate claim on the future. The Congo is one of the world’s most abundant sources of the rare earth minerals that power technology in the developed world, yet the Congolese people do not receive that wealth. So it is that musicians in the West can reap the benefits of technology while those in Kinshasa are left to tinker with trash. Fulu Miziki’s futurism is like that of Saul Williams’ Neptune Frost (2021), hacking the detritus left behind after decades of imperialism to envision a more equitable, sustainable, and musical world.