Konono No. 1 @ S.O.B.’s

Monday, July 24th, 2006 | All Things, Music

Met SN for lunch this afternoon. We had initially considered dining al fresco, but the flimsy umbrellas the restaurant had set up in the patio area seemed to offer precious little protection from the blazing midday sun. I opted to take my maki rolls indoors. Scored an invitation on the boat, so depending on what else I’ll have going on at work, and weather permitting, I may be cruising the Hudson as early as next Monday. Sweet!

Met B after work for a pre-show dinner at the charming Ivo & Lulu, downtown offshoot of the popular (but equally tiny) far-Upper West Side restaurant , A. Good luck googling for information on that one. Both restaurants share a commitment to high quality, organic ingredients, and have similar gently-priced Caribbean-accented French menus. With just a handful of tables and a kitchen not much larger than mine at home, it’s a small miracle that the plates they turn out are as well-prepared and tasty as they are. Most patrons take advantage of the BYOB option – no corkage fees – giving a nice bump in business to neighboring Spring Street Wine Shop. When we arrived, our server automatically set out glasses for both water and wine. (Actually, they were four identical glasses: this casual spot only has the one type.) As we had come in empty-handed, B ran out to procure us a bottle for dinner while I placed our orders: jerked duck for him; rabbit and ginger sausage for me.

A satisfying meal, and a delightful find in one of the few remaining non-neighborhoods in Manhattan: not quite SoHo, not quite Chinatown, just off that sad stretch of Varick by the mouth of the Holland Tunnel.

After dinner, we strolled up to S.O.B.’s for the African All Stars Festival, just in time for the 8:00PM show… or so I thought.


Some background first: Konono No. 1 is a 12-piece group hailing from Kinshasa, the capital of Congo. The band’s 2005 debut album, Congotronics created a global sensation, and earned the group the Best Newcomers Award at the BBC Radio3 World Music Awards in April 2006 – a mere forty years into their career. The original group was formed in 1966. In 1978, the then-nameless band recorded an LP with a French engineer that got some play on the radio station France Culture. Former Belgian punk musician turned record producer Vincent Kenis heard their sound and spent the next two decades trying to locate the mystery band he had heard once. Kenis made exoduses to Kinshasa in 1989 and 1996, and finally found the group in 2000.

Konono No.1’s music has been described as raucous Angolan/Congolese Bazombo trance music. Their lineup includes three electric likembés, or thumb pianos – bass, medium and treble – three singers (performing exclusively in the Bantu language Lingala) and a rhythm section, using traditional and makeshift percussion instruments. Their sound system, too, is their own creation: built from old car parts and discarded wood and machinery – in the early days, re-purposed detritus left behind by fleeing Belgian colonists in the wake of political turmoil. Though technically imperfect, the massive system of wooden megaphones — and attendant feedback — creates an entrancing blend of African dance grooves and dissonant distortions.

As I said, the show was scheduled to begin at 8:00pm. And although I’m generally suspect of advertised start times – knowing full well the s.o.p of building audience anticipation through warm-up acts and delays – I noted that there was no opening act, and more importantly, a second set was scheduled for 10:00pm. Both of which would indicate a reasonably prompt 8:00pm start, right?

Well, not quite. S.O.B.’s – which stands for nothing more coarse than “Sounds of Brazil” – specializes in Brazilian, Caribbean and Latin music. In keeping with the theme, the main room is decorated with bamboo accents and the drink offerings tend toward the tropical. Forty-five minutes and some sweet and minty mojitos and caipirinhas later, B consulted with the doorperson and learned that, unbeknownst to us, the club had decided to combine the early and late shows. So Konono No. 1 wouldn’t be taking the stage until 9:45PM.

What to do, but kick back, relax and let the evening unfold?

Konono Concert Poster

Konono No 1

By the time the first likembés sounded off, we were both in hazy, festive moods, further enhanced by another cachaça-fueled hour. The musicians were energetic and genuinely enthusiastic in their performance… and seemed fully at ease with their rather recent success, despite emerging from such humble, unstable roots. The relentless onslaught of sound was contagious. Ultimately, though, I think I enjoyed the concert more than B did, his main objection being the repetitive beats: Ba-BONK-ba-bonk-bonk-bonk. Repeat for two hours.

Is it a bad thing to find comfort in familiarity?

There's 1 comment so far ... Konono No. 1 @ S.O.B.’s

July 27, 2006

I like that first BONK for emphasis.

Go for it ...