Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Kasai Allstars

  • In the 7th Moon, the Chief Turned Into a Swimming Fish and Ate the Head of His Enemy by Magic [Crammed Discs, 2008] B+
  • Tradi-Mods Vs Rockers [Crammed Discs, 2010] **
  • Congotronics 5: Beware the Fetish [Crammed Discs, 2014] **
  • Around Félicité [Crammed Discs, 2017] A-
  • Black Ants Always Fly Together, One Bangle Makes No Sound [Crammed Discs, 2021] A-

Consumer Guide Reviews:

In the 7th Moon, the Chief Turned Into a Swimming Fish and Ate the Head of His Enemy by Magic [Crammed Discs, 2008]
Where Konono No. 1 play unpolished though by now self-conscious street music, the second band to get its own Congotronics album is a "cultural" collective in which five ethnic groups from Congo's strife-torn, diamond-producing Kasai region fuse and spread their traditions. It serves up the distorted buzz Congotronics fans jones for, sonics that are generally raunchy even though the thumb pianos also generate balafon beauty, and five lead singers. The long track lengths and ritualistic vocals are more village than metropolis even though Kinshasa is their home--and also more village than the Afro-indie hipster might prefer. Afro-indie folkies won't care. B+

Tradi-Mods Vs Rockers [Crammed Discs, 2010]
Congo legends lend status to white remixers, who never wreck the Africans' cultural identity and even texture it sometimes (Deerhoof vs Kasai Allstars, "Travel Broadens the Mind"; Mark Ernestus vs Konono No 1, "Masikulu Dub"; Eye vs Konono No 1, "Konono Wa Wa Wa"; Skeletons vs Sobanza Mimanisa, "Kiwembo/Unstuck") **

Congotronics 5: Beware the Fetish [Crammed Discs, 2014]
Inconveniently, it's true--12 songs over 102 minutes do get samey ("Beware the Fetish," "The Chief's Enthronement/Oyaya") **

Around Félicité [Crammed Discs, 2017]
The fourth album from this biz-fabricated, many-armed Congotronics aggregation is a discographical muckup from a label always happy to exploit "world music" fans' craving for the next different thing. It comes with two add-ons. The first is a bonus disc of remixes, which makes three of the things total since the group was conjured up in 2008--their second album was a by no means terrible all-remix double-CD enlisting rock-oriented meddlers whose point of entry was sonic. This time, as one might hope, it's dance guys, who set themselves to foregrounding and embellishing the groove's through-line. And that's only the extra added attraction. The occasion is a film soundtrack in which some songs repeat from earlier albums and, hang on to your ears, three tracks are symphonic snippets by ─rvo Part. Despite a soupšon of authenticitÚ from the Orchestre Symphonique Kimbanguiste, these do spoil the mood. Solution: burn a CD-ROM consisting entirely of the Kasai Allstars material the film celebrates, cherrypicks, exploits, whatevs. The result is the best Kasai best-of anyone will likely ever own--eight tracks spread over 52 buzzy, groovy, echoey, multivocal minutes. A-

Black Ants Always Fly Together, One Bangle Makes No Sound [Crammed Discs, 2021]
Not so much a group as a conceptual collective in which musicians from Congo's Kasai province, well east of the former Zaire's soukous central in Kinshasa and its gorgeous, flowing, guitaristic groove, have grouped and changed around in five Belgium-fabricated albums since 2007, all more jagged and jumpy than anything dreamt of in Rochereau's philosophy. But the masterminds who conceive these releases do like to mix things up. Where in 2017, Around FelicitÚ included a bonus disc and some ─rvo Part parts, its successor gestures back toward jumpy Congotronics thumb-piano electrobuzz without altogether abandoning Around FelicitÚ's soundtrack aspirations. Try for instance the rather lovely track two, "Olooh, a War Dance for Peace," which the notes inform us is just that: the dancers carry rather than brandish their weapons. Followed by the groovier and more guitaristic "Musungu Elongo Paints His Face White to Scare Small Children." After which comes "Like a Dry Leaf on a Tree," where a street child is the dry leaf and deserves our succor. Repays attention, this album. A-