Congotronics vs. Rockers

Barbican 12 July 2011

Congotronics vs. Rockers

Congotronics vs. Rockers

I’ve been intending to write a bit about this for a while but life’s been pretty hectic recently and writing anything for the blog has gone by the wayside.

A friend had seen the gig was on and asked if I wanted to go with him and the chance to see Konono No.1 and the other Congotronic artists was just to good to miss. Prior to the gig I admit I was dubious as to whether the combination of African and Indie-Rock would actually work. The Congotronics sound is unique and to my mind already superb musically and I was unsure whether the combination of styles would in some way westernise and dilute the rawness and vibrancy of the original music.

Personally I’m more familiar with Konono No.1’s high-octane fuzzy thumb piano led sound than any of the other artist involved in the project. The DIY ethic of the Congotronics bands is also very appealing to my inner electronics geek The sound the bands are known for coming from their self built equipment made with whatever they can get their hands on. I confess to having a fear that they’d have acquired nice shiny amps and clean pickups and suddenly started sounding all slick and polished.

But it was an unmissable chance to see the artists in this context, plus I’d never been to a gig at the Barbican, so with the attitude of nothing ventured nothing gained I agreed to go.

I rather like the Barbican. Alongside the Hayward gallery I think it’s a great example of concrete used to it’s best in architecture, a celebration of it as a material. The venue appears to have had a refresh since I last went there to a graphic design exhibition while I was at Uni and is now, to my eye, magnificent. With my love of texture I found the end grain wooden floor particularly captivating. The venue is always very much a part of an experience for me. This may be rather obvious but when the performance fits into the venue I feel it just adds that extra something to the event.

Stranded Horse playing Kora

The night’s program started with Stranded Horse, a singer/guitarist currently experimenting with playing Kora. As he explained at the start of his set, he is finding his own way of playing the instrument rather than traditional African techniques. Although the Kora songs understandable weren’t as well developed as the pieces accompanied by guitar, I still found the music entrancing and would be interested to hear where he goes with this.

Sadly the sound wasn’t brilliant with the vocals getting a little lost in the mix at the time, a problem that seemed to persist for the headline band as well.

The Congotronics vs. Rockers supergroup came on stage in single file performing a whistling tune and taking their places on stage before launching into their set. All my fears were instantly dispelled. The music ranged between the Western Indie and Folk structures of the Rockers within the band and the Congolese styles of the African bands.

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The Bands seemed to work very well together on stage. The Artists all brought a little of their own music to each other’s styles. Each getting an opportunity to have their moment as the ensemble explored each other’s music. Personally I preferred the African tunes, possibly because I prefer their music. I felt these tunes were a lot more vibrant and energetic.

Congotronics vs. Rockers

There were definitely a few characters on the stage. At one point the leader of Konono No.1 wandered off stage having looked a little disinterested for a while and was followed by a few other members who went to retrieve him. He seemed a lot happier when it was his turn to let loose on thumb piano and lead the band in what I’m guessing was a few of Konono No’1’s own tunes to finished the set. At which point a fair amount of the audience got to their feet to dance, in total disregard of the stewards who quickly gave up trying to get them to remain seated.

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All in all an excellent night hopefully one the project has been successful in bringing the music of the artists within the project to audiences who might not have discovered them otherwise.

You can follow the project at their blog here: