From Kinshasa

Mbongwana Star

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From Kinshasa Review

by Paul Simpson

Congolese group Mbongwana Star was founded by former members of Staff Benda Bilili, a band centered around paraplegic street musicians from Kinshasa. While that band plays a buoyant, highly danceable variation on traditional soukous, sometimes incorporating reggae and R&B elements, and their debut album consisted of cleanly produced live performances, Mbongwana is a different beast altogether. Working in the studio with Dublin-born producer and musician Liam Farrell (Doctor L), who previously drummed in bands like Les Rita Mitsouko and worked with Tony Allen in the short-lived group Psyco on da Bus, Mbongwana Star created a dense, heavy studio production filled with psychedelic effects and distorted field recordings from the group's native city. The album was originally supposed to be titled From Kinshasa to the Moon, like the name of the opening track, but due to a miscommunication with their label, it ended up being truncated to the more general From Kinshasa. Though the title is accurate, it undersells how expansive and otherworldly the group's music is; the atmospheric production and cosmic synth textures do make it seem like they're beaming their music into outer space. "Nganshé" has a fast, skipping rhythm and spikes of treble-heavy guitars that slide in and out of the mix. "Masobélé" is the album's most party-ready funk jam, with layers of rough distortion countered by smooth guitar licks and sweet, searching vocals. "Malukayi" features the unmistakable electrified metal percussion of Kinshasa legends Konono No. 1, who greatly enhance the slightly hazy midtempo groove. "Suzanna" is the album's boisterous highlight, however, with a monstrous electronic beat steamrolling the dancefloor and joyous vocals calling across the world. Closing tune "1 Million C'Est Quoi?" is the most polished and precise selection on the album, but it's still funky and trippy. Mbongwana Star is easily one of the most futuristic groups associated with the Congotronics or Tradi-Modern scene, and their debut is a timeless, boundaryless experience.

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