Kasai Allstars

Beware the Fetish

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Congolese collective Kasai Allstars' epically titled 2008 debut In the 7th Moon, The Chief Turned Into a Swimming Fish and Ate the Head of His Enemy by Magic was a joyous triumph. The third installment of the Congotronics series, the album stood out from the rest of the catalog in its broad spectrum of interweaving styles and instrumentation derived from the intersection of roughly two-dozen musicians from different parts of the region, all with their own culture, language, and approach to music. The hybridized sounds implemented traditional Kasai instruments like xylophone and likembe, as well as crudely amplified guitar, presenting an overflowing cornucopia of sounds melted together from the players' various perspectives. Second proper Kasai Allstars album and fifth installation of the Congotronics series Beware the Fetish both follows the boisterous energy of the group's debut and expands upon it generously. For starters, the 12 tracks here stretch out for over 100 minutes. This wealth of music often builds into a hypnotic and beautiful tapestry of polyrhythms and softy repetitive guitar patterns as on "Yangye, The Evil Leopard." The distorted thumb pianos, makeshift percussion instruments, and fuzzy signals from broken-sounding amplifiers gel nicely with call-and-response vocals and traditional drumming informed by the various ritualistic celebrations of the musicians' separate cultures, which are often feared or hated by religious groups in the band's home of Kinshasa. Traditional ritualistic chants meet with modernized arrangements and themes throughout the album, as with the rolling soukous guitar that begins "He Who Makes Bush Fires for Others," an ecstatic tune that builds with group vocals and increasing layers of intensity over its 11 minutes. Production is skillfully handled, as with all the Congotronics releases, by series founder Vincent Kenis, who captures both the rugged and sublime elements of the band in high definition. Beware the Fetish lacks some of the overstated grit and blown-out feel of other Congotronics releases, but by no means suffers from this distinction. Instead of just relying on hyper-saturated sounds and colors, the lengthy statements here strive for something deeper and less immediately understandable. The album rolls along with a meditative, confident feeling, morphing into a bright dream-like celebration in its many various peaks.

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