Top album releases of the summer
By Jupiter & Okwess (Glitterbeat, GB 050 CD, LP and digital)
Set the volume at full blast: Jean-Pierre ‘Jupiter’ Bokondji and Okwess – a word meaning ‘food’ in Kibunda – mean to set dance floors alight, while simultaneously raising funds for a Kinshasha-based NGO that aids homeless children. To do so, he has assembled a powerful group under the rubric of food. Among them, Warren Ellis, the multi-instrumentalist bringing so much to Nick Cave’s work, is recognisable by his frenetic violin lines; while Damon Blur, he of Blur and Gorillaz, contributes some jaunty keyboards. Staff Benda Bilili’s drummer, Montana, is also present, and Massive Attack’s Robert Del Naja has contributed the album’s cover – a stark stencil showing a child with a halo of planes around their head. Somehow, they don’t look friendly.
Jupiter favours a bombastic, fast-paced style to his music – an Afro-beat funk, edged around with influences that are as likely to come from James Brown as they are from Congolese rumba. It’s a style that’s substantially beefed up by a production team that shares credits for Amadou and Mariam and Songhoy Blues, two very different Malian groups. Jupiter makes a point of representing a number of DRC’s languages, and songs shift between tongues and rhythms in an effort to do this. There are sharp words for the corrupt and the violent on songs such as ‘Benanga’ and ‘Nzele Momi’. Most impressive is Jupiter’s commitment to bring change, even at the micro-level, to his community. More power to him.
By Kondi Band (Strut 143 CD, 2LP, digital)
This release from Sierra Leone’s Sorie Kondi and Chief Boima – a DJ/producer with Leonean roots himself – occupies an interesting space that links some far-flung points. Utilizing kondi (a thumb piano rather like the mbira) and fuzzy electronics, the band’s debut album, Salone, is situated somewhere between traditional music and a club sound that owes more to the classic techno that crashed out of Chicago and Detroit like a wave of revitalization in the late 1980s.
It would be easy to say that Sorie Kondi, the thumb-master and singer (he takes his name from his instrument), represented the traditional side of Salone, with the US-based Boima taking the technological side. Far from it: Sorie, a blind musician who made his living on the war-torn streets of Freetown, was, like the Congotronic outsider-geniuses of Kinshasha, mixing things up. By attaching a cheap portable amplifier to his thumb piano, he enhanced the range and timbre of his music considerably, gaining a bit of recording attention. Boima’s technical knowhow and contact with a wider range of music, has been crucial to this process. While Salone is not the first recording made by Sorie, it is certainly the one that stretches furthest. The opener, ‘Yeahnoh’ sets up a steady rhythm while well placed synths sounds give it a celestial lift-off in a tactic that it is pure late-night techno; hovering trumpet sounds pull in flavours of Afro-jazz. Salone’s 12 songs offer other landscapes and they are all equally beguiling.