The group Konono No.1 and Angola-born, Lisbon-raised, artist Batida, have teamed up and released Konono No.1 meets Batida, an album that is both thought-provoking and also an enjoyable listen. The songs are engaging medleys of electronic instrumentation, along with sounds such as the thumb piano, that we assume that the Congolese listeners would already be familiar with. They are not electronic songs that are designed for intense nightlife however , but instead their rhythms would function best at being a soundtrack to daily life. That is what is so thought-provoking about the music of KONONO No.1: that a society like the Congo’s, despite the amount of pain that its citizens feel because of dictators and civil wars, can produce joyful rhythmic modernism that rivals that of any major city such as New York or London.
‘Nlele Kalisimbiko’ is the first song on the album and begins without an introduction. We are instantly sent grooving along with a rhythm that feels like the perfect backdrop to socialising with a beer in hand, perhaps dancing, but mostly just absorbing this enlivening polyrhythmic composition. ‘Yambadi Mama’ starts straight after, and in its own way is as rhythmic as ‘Nlele Kalisimbiko’ and we soon hear a woman singing the same phrase over and over again, which is an elegant addition to the medley of instruments that we are introduced to in ‘Nlele Kalisimbiko.’ One of the highlights of the album is ‘Bom Dia’, the album’s 4th track. It is a song that is stripped of the intensity of the songs that came before it and reduces the number of instruments contributing. ‘Kinsumba’, the next song, is much more elegant than what comes before it and is truly beautiful. It reminds us that the Congolese, like the Europeans, have a long heritage of court society that allowed for musicians to produce very formal forms of music. It might not have been inspired by these courtly songs but ‘Kinsumba’ sounds very formal, like a song that could be danced to in very organised fashion.
Konono No.1 meets Batida is a successful coming together of cultures, and because of this, the songs feel organic. Angola also used to belong to the now fallen Kingdom of Kongo, as the two Congos did, and perhaps it is so authentic because both parties share a common heritage. With Batida being Lisbon bound, however, the successful coming together of these two parties is probably down to great communication and even better musicianship.
The sum of Konono No.1’s parts makes up a modernist album of 12 joyful sounding songs, whose lyrics may not necessarily be as joyful as the music. The Congo (one civilisation split by colonisers into several states) has had a long tradition of coded language in musical lyrics and the artist Franco was well known for his. It’s important to keep this in mind when listening to this album.