The Congotronics franchise has succeeded in making the rawest of African traditional music hip. The third volume in this series — which was created by adventurous Belgian producer Vincent Kenis — focuses on a supergroup from central Congo.
Kenis had combined rival Kasai ensembles to create the Allstars and was amazed, when he returned the following year, to find they had remained together. That diversity pays off on this entrancing set of urban bush grooves. The mesmerizing cycles of Congo music play out in various soundscapes — gentle, deep-toned drums and clamoring voices, understated electric guitars, thumb pianos, and most memorably, various wooden xylophones, some of which produce such otherworldly tones that it can be hard to believe they haven't been electronically enhanced.
Those familiar with Congo's mighty pop music will recognize some of the æsthetics especially in the organized chaos of vocal layers, and the guitar work on a tune like "Mpombo Yetu." Yet the music is neither bastardized nor precious, just a riveting reflection of the ongoing allure and paradox that is the Congo.