Rising out of the tumultuous, crowded neighborhoods of Kinshasa, Africa's third largest city, are KOKOKO!, a Congolese collective of musicians whose wildly inventive dance music feels anarchic, dangerous, and distinctly modern. The band's roots lie in a group of childhood friends who, unable to afford or even find proper instruments, began creating their own out of spare parts and junk they found in the street. Among these inventions are repurposed percussive typewriters, single-string guitars made out of tin cans and scrap wood, tuned plastic bottles, and a rickety talk box made out of a rewired car stereo. Through a local production company, Dido Oweke, Boms Bomolo, and Love Lokombe met up with French electronic musician Débruit, who helped them arrange and structure their unique improvisations while adding his own beats and synth parts. The final link came during a guerrilla-style block party where the group found themselves jamming alongside enigmatic singer Makara Bianko and his dancers. The fascinating multidisciplinary collision of performance artists, dancers, and musicians became known as KOKOKO!, with the original trio, Bianko, and Débruit representing the collective's musical pursuits.
Recorded on the fly in makeshift studio spaces and armed with a sense of youthful urgency, the band's debut album, Fongola, is a fascinating mix of rugged lo-fi beats, relentless grooves, rousing vocal interplay, and kitchen-sink cacophony that sounds like nothing else being made in Africa or any other continent. Often building from some primitive element like the buzzing of an instrument cable being rhythmically activated ("Azo Toke"), the tracks continually shift into surprising musical shapes, with Bianko's hoarse bark leading the charge over clanging percussion and wiry single-string leads ("LOVE," "Kitoko"), and Débruit's thick synth pads and psychedelic treatments rolling in and out of the picture. While the group's tone reflects the hardships of life in politically suppressed Kinshasa, KOKOKO!'s songs extend beyond mere protest music, bearing an aura of mystery and a celebratory sense of their own spontaneous creation. In an era of musical abundance and sonic homogeneity, it's increasingly uncommon to hear music this fresh and original.