Kasai Allstars

ūüŹ∑ Musical collective from the Kasai region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo

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"He Who Makes Bush Fires For Others" by Kasai Allstars
(2014)


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The Quietus: The Kasai Allstars boast fifteen members, all from the Kasai region [of the Democratic Republic of Congo]. They come from five ethnic groups that have experienced conflict with one another in the past, a fact that imbues the innately social function of the music with a significance that extends beyond mere token inclusivity. The record's accompanying booklet highlights this, with its shots of dancers and musicians pushing to the foreground the celebratory and theatrical elements of the group's music. The subject matter of the songs is moral in tone, extolling the virtues of hard work and tradition. Overt political commentary is side-lined, though this reviewer did baulk at a linear note, an unattributed quote, for the title track, "developed countries didn't become rich just by chance but through hard work." It is not the place of this music review to offer commentary on this opinion, but it is worth noting as it gives an indication that some aspects of the Kasai Allstars do not chime neatly with the positivist, punk-rock or post-colonial narrative that music criticism often invokes to describe them.

Setting aside the political complexities momentarily, the music itself is robustly engaging. Driven largely by a power-house of drums, it offsets chiming guitar lines and xylophones with the waspish buzz of hot-wired likembe (thumb piano). Part of what has made the Congotronics project such an appealing prospect has been the conversion of traditional instrumentation, like the likembe, using electric amplification to give it a distorted and raw-throated quality. The vocals complement this, often a combination of yells that are mixed to emphasise a spatial relationship between the many singers. On 'He Who Makes Bush Fires For Others' the listener is thrown into a stereo field of call and response, bedded in amongst a shimmer of electric guitar. Pushing the eleven minute mark, it is one of the highlights of the album, not least because it never ceases in its vibrancy and energy.