Kasai Allstars, Beware the Fetish

Richard Gehr

By Richard Gehr

on 06.24.14 in Reviews

The fifth release in Crammed Discs’ Congotronics series challenges listeners to expand their boundaries and get down with the brutal sound of multiple electric likembés, the overdriven and distorted thumb pianos first recorded in 1978 by Konono No. 1. Where Konono consisted of members of the Kinshasa-based Bazombo tribe, the Kasai Allstars, who made their 2008 debut on Crammed’s In the 7th Moon, the Chief Turned Into a Swimming Fish and Ate the Head of His Enemy by Magic, consist of 15 musicians from five different bands and as many ethnic groups — the Songye, Lulua, Tetela, Luba and Luntu — each with its own language and musical tunings. Somehow, they’ve found a way to blend their disparate modes.

Getting down with the brutal sound of multiple electric thumb pianos

Series producer Vincent Kenis experiments with psych and dub effects in earlier, shorter tracks such as “The Chief’s Enthronement/Oyaye” and “Yangye, the Evil Leopard,” but it’s long tracks such as “He Who Makes Bush Fires for Others” (11:31) and “The Ploughman (Le Laboureur)” (9:43) that drive the music into shamanistic realms. Here even the overtones sprout overtones, and voices, guitar, xylophone, drums, and multiple likembés — including the mighty bass version featured in “Thus Spoke the Ancestors” — achieve polyrhythmic liftoff.