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Kasai Allstars
Black Ants Always Fly Together, One Bangle Makes No Sound

Crammed Discs
Review by Bruce Miller


A decade and half ago, the Kasai Allstars were one of a handful of bands featured on Crammed Discs’ Congotronics compilation, and as a result, got swept up in the sudden burst of praise and hype surrounding label mates Konono #1, who seemed to benefit in particular from the attention. Suddenly, raw, relentless DIY sounds from the war-ravaged central African nation were to be found in hip vinyl shops in the west. Konono had released music internationally as far back as 1986, when Ocora released a nearly half long performance by them as a part of a cassette-only compilation showcasing four examples of Congo’s then-new urban electro-traditional hybrids. Their track stood out then as now as especially raw, with distortion levels pushed well past the red due to limitations on their homemade amplification. This was part of their appeal, as western audiences eventually heard a connection with house music’s relentless pulse in their ramshackle throb.

The Kasai Allstars’ 2008 debut, In The 7th Moon, The Chief Turned Into A Swimming Fish And Ate The Head Of His Enemy By Magic, was published in time to capitalize on the Western popularity surrounding Konono #1, thanks to Crammed Discs’ distribution. And the record showed the group, featuring musicians across multiple ethnic groups from as many other bands, engulfed in a wondrously monotonous thud; likembes, xylophones, hand drums, and empty gin bottles battled it out for space underneath hypnotic guitar curlicues as singers kicked up dust and international audiences got swept up in performance as ritual. Engage with any track on that initial release, or their follow-up, 2014’s Beware the Fetish, and be prepared to forget all sense of time. Their music is simply that immersive. Like Konono, the melodies swimming through Kasai’s grooves are unmistakably Congolese, with connections to past superstars such as Franco as well as vocal and percussion music of the Mayogo tribes in the Northeastern part of the country.


Which all makes Black Ants Always Fly Together, One Bangle Makes No Sound come as something of a surprise departure. The thick, distorted likembes are still present, as are the pugnacious guitar patterns. Yet this is an altogether sweeter, less unyielding affair. “Hunters and Farmers Need the Blacksmith,” for example, quickens temp mid-song as the call-and-response coming from the vocalists ride atop interwoven guitars and perfectly syncopated drummers.


Electronic percussion comes more to the fore here to; certain tracks, such as “Betrayal by Gossip,” begin with it, before the band joins and everyone settles into a more relaxed pulse. Synths weave in and out of the mix for something much gentler than the kinds of jagged- amped grooves found on their earlier records. This might be disappointing to some, but it also shows the growth of a band determined not to make the same record over and over. Instead, they’ve found ever more inventive ways to connect what can often be frustratingly metronomic electronic sounds to their own unique rhythms without robbing the music of its life.

Further reading:
Zaire 74 – The African Artists
Les Tambours de Brazza

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