Saturday, November 12, 2005

Konono No. 1 and On

Last night marked the Chicago debut of Konono N.o1, the Congolese band currently taking the hipsters by storm. Hipsters, largely, because someone (the band/ I doubt it) was savvy enough to brand their music “Congotronics.” Street performers, Konono struggled for a way to be heard over the din of the everyday. Their solution was whistles, hotwired thumb pianos and amplified pieces of tuned metal.

It wasn’t nearly as great and melodic as much African music, but each of four half-hour-plus pieces proceeded with a certain musical logic (not unlike, as a friend pointed out, a good Detroit DJ, or as I kept thinking, minimalists like Steve Reich). But most of the almost entirely non-African crowd ate it right up and danced for hours, while I stood sleepily. It was the end of a long day watching baby Z..

As per that non-African crowd, another friend there (bumped into lots, actually, at the end) noted that because they speak French in the Congo, there isn’t a big Congolese population in Chicago. Paris, of course, may be a different story. When my friend saw King Sunny Ade a few months ago, the crowd was apparently overwhelmingly African, robes and all.

Watching all the hipsters (most of Tortoise, etc.) and white folk watching the show reminded me what a big deal it was that Paul Simon broke through with “Graceland.” Sure, it’s a different, peppier and more melodic strain of Afro-pop, largely South African and definitely bolstered by some of Simon’s strongest writing and the clever/cutthroat way he ripped off Ladysmith Black Mambazo (among others).

Back in 1986, “Graceland” was pop music. Paul Simon got played on top 40 and MTV. This was back when Tom Petty and his ilk were also getting played on MTV, in the days before hip-hop saved/destroyed top 40 forever.

Speaking of top 40, my instincts were sort of right in that the new Madonna disc is one of the best produced things I’ve ever heard. Credit goes largely to Stuart Price (aka Les Rhythm Digitales aka Thin White Duke aka Jacques Lu Cont aka Zoot Woman aka a few other aliases), since the singer may as well be Gwen, Kylie, Annie or any other mainstream or underground diva (banal self-help lyrics aside).


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