mon 15/07/2024

Album: Kokoko! - Butu | reviews, news & interviews

Album: Kokoko! - Butu

Album: Kokoko! - Butu

Music to raise the spirits of the forest

Congo sounds meet Milwaukee House

Kokoko! hail from the Democratic Republic of Congo (formely Zaire), and specifically from Kinshasa, a source over the years of a great deal of irresistible dance music. On their second album, more electronic than the last (Fongola -2019), traces of bouncing soukous music, mixed with the old-style house delights of Milwaukee-based DJ and producer Thomas Xavier, make for a heady brew.

In sharp contrast with West African music, langourous High Life, elegant Manding praise songs, and the intricate polyrhythms of Afro-Beat, the music of Kokoko! draws energy from the ancient forests’ spirits, or ‘nkisi’, immensely powerful forces that inhabit trees and soil, the darkness of the rainforest.  They have adopted many ways of the city, indeed the whole planet, but remain rooted in an incantatory casting of spells, a magic all of its own. The late Hadj Miliani, a brilliant Algerian sociologist and an authority on Rai, would talk about rurban music and culture, a combination of down-home country-style (rural) and city cool (urban).  Kokoko are well-described in those terms. It could indeed be said that much contemporary African music fits that label, and Afro-Atlantic music as well. The Chicago “urban” blues drew the heart of its strength from the deep South, and yet lifted the music into another plane by electrifying it and playing loud.

Everything about Kokoko is loud, frenetic and infectious. There’s something of punk here, a no-holds-bar frenzy, fired by frustration, anger – the hard life of those who've never opted into the omnipresent system of corruption that rules the country. Makara Bianko’s furious voice is the perfect vehicle for this call for attention and awareness. He wants to shake it up. He summons the spirits, the same spirits at the heart of rock’n’roll, though much attenuated outside Africa. The music calls the other world into presence, and always hovers tantalisingly on the edge of excess.

Kokoko! draw on many everyday objects – as did the famous Konono No1 before them – pots and pans, plastic containers – beating the shit out of them with a perfect sense of polyrhythms that can enchant the listener or dancer, just as the spirits demand. These guys must be breath-taking live, and totally danceable, so play it loud, and let the magic take you away.

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