Congo Band Finds an International Voice in a Junkyard
By WILL HERMES
Published: November 15, 2005
When Mawangu Mingiedi, 72, a musician and truck driver from Kinshasa in Congo, built a sound system for his street band, Konono No. 1, years ago, he wasn't aiming for sonic innovation.
He played traditional music on the likembé, a "thumb piano" constructed of thin metal rods attached to a resonator box. When performing outdoors with his group of singers, percussionists and other likembé players, it was tough to compete with the street noise. So he fashioned instrument pickups using automobile alternator magnets and amplifiers using old car radios, and sent his music out over salvaged metal public-address speaker horns.
The sound, not surprisingly, was distorted. But it was an appealing distortion, giving his hypnotic music a raw, electric quality. And the conical loudspeakers, or "lance voix" (voice-throwers), proved more effective than anyone expected. "I thought that amplification would promote my group in the neighboring streets when playing in public," Mr. Mingiedi (who generally uses just his last name) said through a translator in a recent interview. "I never thought it would carry my sound all the way to Europe and the U.S.A."
Yet, in time, it did. The debut LP for the more than three-decade-old group, "Congotronics," was released last year on the Belgian label Crammed Discs, and its clattering rhythms became a small international sensation, thanks in part to a performance video clip that made the rounds on the Internet. Having performed in Europe this past summer, the group is now on a short tour of the United States. (It performs tomorrow at Joe's Pub in the East Village and on Thursday at S.O.B.'s in the South Village.) [read on...]