KONONO NO. 1 at the Harbourfront Centre, July 8. Tickets: free. Attendance: 800. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNNN
If necessity is the mother of in vention, then Konono No. 1 must have absolutely needed to play music. These Congolese playing their banged-out homemade instruments make you feel optimistic about the human capacity for innovation. That's particularly true in this case, where the musicians are faced with economic adversity and geographic isolation.
Konono took the Harbourfront stage just as the sun disappeared behind the lake. Considering this was their first Toronto visit, the level of enthusiasm greeting them was extremely high. Even they looked visibly shocked by rows of standing bodies pressed against the front barrier applauding. Nevertheless, the sextet assumed their three-three position and immediately fired up their junkyard engines to the infectious beat of a trancey African groove.
Flanked by megaphones that look like props from M.A.S.H, Konono boasted three likembé players, including band leader, vocalist and septuagenarian Mawangu Mingiedi . As they started thumbing their hand-held metal boxes rigged with mics made from magnets and car scrap, the three percussionists, one using a scrap-metal drum, jumped into the mix. Bodies instantly began to move.
About 30 minutes in, someone leaned over and asked me, "Is this still the first song?" I couldn't reply with certainty, as I had at that point slipped into a sub-Saharan zone of Bazombo trance induced by steadying flows of pulsating tribal rhythms, muffled vocal chants and seamless intersections of those melodic makeshift likembés. It all came through a warm, gritty distortion produced by their spare-parts amplification system. What finally snapped me out were the hip-shaking hypnotics of Konono's lone female member, Mbuka Msiala . Although nearing the senior-citizen age bracket, she could have shamed any nubile rap video chic with her sexually subtle dance moves done with arms rapturously outstretched over her head. For the record, Konono played about four songs over the 90 minutes, all from the Congotronics (Crammed) album. When they returned for an encore, heads started craning in the opposite direction as fireworks filled the sky over nearby Ontario Place. The luminescent explosions might as well have been a victory celebration for these former Zairians. They gave us an always needed reminder of music's infinite possibility.