I’ve been neglecting lct in favor of my daughter, who has been with me this week. Thus, I haven’t yet discussed the show at Cleveland’s Beachland Ballroom last Tuesday by Le Grande Orchestre Tout Puissant Likembe Konono No. 1 (The All Powerful Number One Konono Likembe Orchestra).
If ever there was an example of the hamster wheel of cultural transmission in the modern era, it is this group of Bazombo musicians from the Democratic Republic of Congo. In one sense, their music is ancient, using hand drums and likembes (thumb pianos) under call-and-response singing. But because these rural migrants to the capital of Kinshasa needed amplification to be heard above the din of that chaotic urban area, they accomplished for acoustic Bazombo music what Muddy Waters and other South Side pioneers did for acoustic rural blues: scuffing it up and giving it an urban crunch.
Paradoxically, European trance music fans found in Konono a kindred spirit, and the band’s debut record, Congotronics, became a cult hit. At Beachland, a former Croatian social hall replete with murals of tamburitza orchestras and whirling dancers, Konono built the groove slowly, and the primarily Caucasian audience stood around for most of the opening number. But it wasn’t long before movement became inevitable, even down to the expression on the face of the impassive older gentleman pictured above. His only smile of the evening came when a young man in a newsboy cap broke into a duck-walk in front of the stage. In the audience, smiles were less fleeting and damn near universal.