When you read an intro like “a group of Congolese street musicians fronted by four eldery, disabled men in wheelchairs and backed by formerly abandoned street kids” or “an urban electro-traditional Congolese musical phenomenon, lost since the late 70s” the sceptics among us will ask, were they really playing together before they were “discovered” by a European label? Did they sound that way before they were brought into the studio?
The thing is, they did. In fact everything that Crammed producer Vincent Kenis finds is pure gold and 100% authentic. Kasai, Konomo, Staff; these guys stayed true to their musical roots both before and after their brush with fame. Their incredible backgrounds may cause you to pause over their record review for a few moments longer than usual, but it’s their stunning, authentically original music that keeps you on the dance floor.
I first saw Konomo No. 1 live in 2005 at the New Morning in Paris, then again at that epic show at 2007′s Couleur Café, then again last week at the Cabaret Sauvage, this time along with the Kasai All-Stars and Staff Benda Bilili. Amadou and Mariam also played at that 2007 Brussels show, but unlike Konomo they’ve since lost touch with what made them best – Mali. The hype now surrounds their association with Manu Chao and their blind love. Their music may still be entertaining but it’s no longer, well, the fresh Malian style that it once was a few years ago. They’ve gone pop.
Konomo haven’t gone pop. In fact, they’ve sounded pretty much exactly the same since they started recording music in the late 70s. I appreciate that because their sound is unique and it gets me every time.. shakes me into a sweat.
The Kasai All-Stars are newer to “that world music scene” and are still finding their footing on stage, but after a few missteps they, too, grabbed the crowd and got them moving. By any stretch they are a pretty weird group but in a charming, original way that makes you shake your head, smile and start bouncing to the rhythm. It didn’t hurt that the sound was way better this time around.
Staff Benda Bilili’s live show really impressed me. I’d class them as true entertainers – and this is my highest praise for a live show – in the sense that they were there to entertain their audience, not just to play their music to a roomful of pre-convinced fans. They were trying to impress us, sweating, really rocking it, to make sure that we all came away tired from dancing, loving their music.
Classy and full of energy, Staff stole the show.
With its big outdoor terrace including BBQ, beer on tap and a very good pre-show DJ, a beautiful interior venue with good sound, there is nothing not to love about the Cabaret Sauvage. It was there at a private party in 2000 that I changed the course of my life… but that story is for another day. Today let’s just listen to some of the music from last week’s triple-Kinshasa-bill and relax.. just as I’m relaxing in a friend’s garden in Normandy as I write this. Summer is amazing.
ps- if you haven’t already, watch the Staff trailercongo, crammed, drc, paris