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Monday April 21, 2014
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Konono No. 1

 

continued

the political fusion music of Thomas Mapfumo, the Lion of Zimbabwe. But Konono No. 1 — in full, L'Orchestre Tout Puissant Likembe Konono No. 1, or the All-Powerful Likembe Orchestra Konono No. 1 — is something else again. This group comes from Kinshasa, but its roots are in the lands of the Zombo tribe near the Congo-Angola border. Konono's music is traditional, with one big exception.

The likembe is the little instrument known elsewhere in central Africa as a sanza or mbira and sometimes in the West as a thumb piano. It consists of a series of tuned metal tines attached to a soundboard backed with a resonating box, traditionally a gourd. At the center of Konono No. 1 are three of them, small, medium, and large. A term attached in Kinshasa to Konono No. 1's music, which has apparently been around since the 1960s without having fundamentally changed, is "tradi-moderne." The "moderne" aspect is that the three likembes are amplified with a homemade microphone-and-megaphone system, originally using parts salvaged from the radios of abandoned cars. The rest of the group consists of percussion instruments, both traditional and those found in an urban environment, like pots and pans. When things really get cooking, someone will bring out a whistle. There are singers and, in performance, several dancers.

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