Recording information: Halle De La Gombe, Kinshasa, Democratic Republic Of Con; Ndjili Quartier Nø1.
Photographers: Pieter Hugo; Vincent Kenis.
For nearly 40 years, Mingiedi Mawangu and his Konono No. 1 likembe orchestra, have been playing street parties and festivals in the Congo, and since the 21st century, all over the world. The likembe is a thumb piano made from steel strips cut to various lengs and played across a steel bridge over a hollowed wooden box, creating a resonating tinny sound that registers from deep and and rumbles to high and reedy. Konono No. 1 make their instruments from car parts and amplify them with everything from microphones assembled from alternator magnets, camshafts, valves, and speakers to homemade amplifiers that distort the likembe's sound and create numerous overtones and effects accompanied by whistles and other percussion instruments made from discarded steel pots, pans, radiators, sheets of tin, trunk covers, car hoods, etc. The only conventional modern instrument is Duki Makumbu's electric bass and Vincent Visi's makeshift drum kit (likewise made of found items).
Previous recordings have documented the many kinds of sounds Konono No. 1 generate in their form of polyrhythmic bazombo trance music that incorporates interlinking folk and improvised melodies that are sometimes played by the likembes, and at other times chanted and sung with call and response vocals. Assume Crash Position, produced by Crammed's Vincent Kenis, was recorded in a proper studio setting in Kinshasa. Rather than let the environment take away from the kinetic, utterly organic, raw feel of their previous albums, the separation of sounds created here, and the clarity of the way the likembes interact with one another, create a new experience altogether. Konono No. 1's approach to playing is not at all different; it is still the sound of an hour-long celebration unfolding -- even adding a couple of likembe players from the Kasai All-Stars on "Mama Na Bana," and a few guitars littered throughout doesn't alter that. A solid example is in one of their set standards, "Konono Wa Wa Wa," near the album's end. The bassline is clearly stated, followed by layers of drums and percussion. The melody unfolds in call and response chants before the likembes begin to enter gradually by tonality. What seems like an ordinary folk song is, by the four-minute mark of its nearly 12 minutes, a complete exercise in Konono No. 1's trademark ancient-to-future hip-shaking trance dance with echoing sounds, reverb, distortion, and overwhelming energy united inseparably. Another extended workout is on album0opener "Wumbanzanga," where a guitar line is woven through the intricate melody of likembes, percussion, and bass; deep shouted responses to Pauline Mbuka Nsiala's lead vocals make this a celebratory hypnosis inducer; it will make a dancer out of anyone within earshot. For fans, Assume Crash Position is a necessary addition to the catalog. For the intrigued, this is an excellent starting point. ~ Thom Jurek
Spin - "Even with enhanced production, Konono still sound like high prophets of lo-fi magic."
Mojo (Publisher) (p.104) - 4 stars out of 5 -- "[The album] reveals depth and variety without abandoning the pursuit of the ultimate thumb-piano blitzkrieg."
Uncut (magazine) - 4 stars out of 5 -- "[C]ontributions from guitarist Manuaku Pepe Felly and members of Kasai Allstars add texture and crank up the general air of euphoria even further."