Thursday, October 02, 2008

KASAI ALLSTARS - In the 7th Moon, the Chief Turned Into a Swimming Fish and Ate the Head of his Enemy by Magic (Crammed Discs)

The third in the Crammed Discs series of mesmeric traditional trance rhythms and urban do-it-yourself din showcases a cong(o)lomeration of artists that assemble under the name Kasai Allstars, a shifting line-up of twenty-five artists (including six different lead vocalists) from a number of disparate ethnic Congolese groups. “Play it loud” is the exhortation on the album cover, which gives rise to the suspicion that the only way this music can truly appeal is by battering down the listener's defences, creating a thunderous wall-of sound by closing off all other sensory avenues. This might well have been a requirement for the somewhat repetitive, atonal attack of Konono No 1 (subject of the first Congotronics album), but despite the use of similar sonic components – buzzy, distorted likembe thumb pianos, chiming guitars, improvised percussion and chanted vocals, all delivered through ageing amplifiers – with the Allstars there's more purpose and melody under the general organised cacophony.
If the turn-it-up instruction works at all, it's in the way it reveals a surprisingly sophisticated, multi-layered approach to the group’s song craft. Each tune starts with the guitar laying down a liquid melody or the likembes beating out a dry, dusty hum, over which a thick mesh of instrumentation and voices builds its insistent, frenzied momentum, with various dissonant sounds and wild vocal declamations drifting in and out of focus, before coalescing into a trance-like rhythm which resolves itself in a just-short-of-shambolic way half a dozen or so minutes later. It's a gorgeous, eerily sumptuous sound, and when they slow the pace on the charming, airy title track or enhance their melodic side with rich, layered vocals on the album's exultant highpoint Analengo, the results are irresistibly compelling. Visa restrictions recently prevented the Kasai Allstars from bringing this magnetic sound to Europe, a massive loss for both them and audiences already seduced by the unique Congotronics sound. Judging by In the 7th Moon, there was more seduction to come, so let's hope that the appropriate authorities extract the requisite digits from over-stuffed orifices soon because this is a sound that cries out to be witnessed in the flesh.

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