It’s taken me a while to make up my mind on this one. I wanted to love it.
But I’m afraid that I’ve lost the battle. It’s gone back to the shop, swapped out for something else to try.
I’ve got a penchant for African and world music. I’ve been buying the wonderful Strut and Soundway’s compilations of Nigerian, Ghanian and Kenyan music through the years. What I most love about African music is the subtlety of the rhythms, combined with sinuous and melodic instrumentation. A recent purchase of 1986’s King Sunny Ade’s Sweet Banana captured everything that I look for in African music. It’s a gorgeous sounding record, featuring the grooves and interlocking guitars that informed Talking Head’s Remain In Light LP.
Formed as a collective in Kinshasha, Fongola is Kokoko!’s debut album. Life in the Democratic Republic of Congo is clearly tough. A society that is riven with violence and poverty, the band’s response is based on togetherness. Musicians and dancers combine with upcycled musical instruments made from discarded electronics and automobile parts.
This makes for music that is centred on repetition rather than melody. I can imagine that this sounds bracing and exciting in a hot nightclub on a Saturday night in Matonge. We saw them briefly in their matching yellow boiler suits at the Bluedot festival at Jodrell Bank in Cheshire. Whilst the energy was evident, it was somewhat dissipated on a grey Saturday afternoon in the North of England.
This leaves you with the record at home. I recall the Congotronics album by Konono No.1 from 2004, another Kinshasha band which got a decent amount of coverage. The band ended up collaborating with Bjork on Earth Invaders, a true sign of them making it with the Western art cognoscenti. I still couldn’t get past the fact though that it was a bit of a racket and the Kokoko! LP is cut from a similar cloth. I just haven’t fathomed the situation where I’d want to listen to it, start to finish, with there being so little light and shade to my ears. I could well imagine an individual track sounding great slotted into a live DJ set or on Gilles Peterson’s radio show. But sitting at home in North London, it just doesn’t click with me.
It may be heretic to suggest this but I’ve enjoyed the four-track remix EP more than the LP. The remix of Tokoliana by City Boy and TLC Fam’s take on Likolo, both from Durban in South Africa, introduce a sense of drama that is missing from the rest of the LP. The final remix of Tongos’a by DJ Marfox gives a Portuguese take on Kokoko!’s music, via the ghettos of Lisbon.
All in all, this isn’t a bad LP. I’ve just learned my lesson that if I give an LP a fair crack of the whip and I don’t take to it, I’d get more pleasure out of trying something else rather than have it taking up valuable wall space.