Who: Konono N°1,
Where: The Reykjavík Art Museum,
When: May 11, 2007
Konono N°1 is an unusual African band that has gotten critical acclaim in recent years. Best known for their usage of the unusual instrument likembé, also known as a thumb piano, the founder of the group Mawangu Mingiedi discovered a novel way to mic up his likembé using magnets from old car parts. Joining Mingiedi were two other likembé players, a singer, and three drummers who use Kongos, drums and pots and pans.
Walking into the hall of the art museum I could feel the history of the Kinsasah people gushing from the sound of their traditional African music mixed with the sound of likembé, which reminded me of the sound from Nintendo computer games. The female singer was grinding her mic stand like their was no tomorrow and I felt it was a shame that concert promoters hadn’t supplied a straight mic stand which would have gone much better with her dancing. The male singer played bass likembé, while dancing and singing at the same time, and you could watch each one of the drummers in awe.
People loved the music, which was something you can’t really imagine until you hear it. It was hypnotizing, real and inspiring. It was a contagious happiness that even the rhythmless crowd could feel. People tried to keep their cool and resisted the urge to dance. It was repetitive music the way it should sound – powerful and pure. In the end, this gathering of uptight middle-aged people lost control. Everybody was dancing like a four year-old school girl on PCP.
After the band left the stage people were exhausted from their ass shaking ceremony, but managed to put together their hands and get an encore. The band reformed one by one, building up tension as each instrument laid like a brick in the heavenly wall of sound. Mingiedi, the Jimi Hendrix of the likembé, had been standing still all evening only moving his thumbs. Now he walked on stage dancing, shaking his hips like a twenty year old porn star in a music video. “What a cool dude!” I could hear many people utter.
I had asked for a musical spiritual experience but I got so much more. In the end, Konono N°1 had every rhythmless freak dancing. Hurray for the arts festival for making squares dance.
When I hear the term “World music” I automatically think of Nick Hornby’s negative connotation. He used the word describing how lame his next door neighbour was: “Ray was into whatever world music that was trendy at that time.” But when I think of my experience with world music it has been one of enlightenment and joy. Great artists such as Femi Kuti and African Black Mamboso come to mind. What Hornby was implying with his remark is that even though something is foreign and exotic it doesn’t mean it is any good. I was hoping for a musical spiritual experience among all the Rays in attendance that night, sipping their red wine and trying without success to forget they were middle-aged.