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V/A - The Karindula Sessions: Tradi-Modern Sounds from Southeast Congo

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Artist: V/A

Album: The Karindula Sessions: Tradi-Modern Sounds from Southeast Congo

Label: Crammed Discs

Review date: Jul. 8, 2011

Since the late 1970s, Belgian musician, composer, and producer Vincent Kenis has divided his time between Europe, New York, and Africa, working tirelessly to bridge the artificial boundaries between new and traditional music communities, as well as between electric, electronic, and acoustic sounds. In his work as musician and producer he has deliberately focused on various music scenes in or from the Congo. In the past he has played guitar and keyboards with such greats as Franco and Papa Wemba, brought out discs for the Crammed label of the sounds of electro-acoustic kalimba music from Kinshasha (the Congotronics series), the regional music of the Kasai region (which borders Angola in south-central Congo), and the home-made Congolese rumba of Staff Benda Bilili.

The latest offering from Kenis and Crammed continues the journey through Congo, but in this case far from the capital Kinshasha. The Karindula Sessions features music from the southeast copper-mining area around Lubumbashi, which borders the neighboring country of Zambia and has served as a rebel capital several times since Congo’s independence in 1960. Karindula music centers on the instrument of the same name, a very large four-string banjo. The giant, skin-covered resonator of the karindula doubles as a drum, much like the giant lyres of East Africa, and the insertion of an empty flour bag between the strings and the neck two-thirds of the way up add a characteristic buzz to the sound. Working with the giant karindula player, who also sings the primary lyrics, is a small chorus of singers, wooden clappers, and a much smaller version of the karindula playing basic chords, something like a ukulele.

This basic description of the music cannot do justice to the speed, strength, and passion of the sound or the dance that goes along with it. Fortunately, the high-quality audio and video recordings of this CD-DVD set give the scene full representation. Kenis clearly used all his knowledge and skill in making these recordings; the sound is clear and deep, the video shows the musicians and the dancers in all clarity without sacrificing the broader context in the process.

The only quibble this reviewer has with The Karindula Sessions is the subtitle of “Tradi-Modern Sounds.” What exactly this neologism is supposed to mean is unclear, but none of the possibilities are particularly palatable. The idea that the traditional is not modern, that modernity is not itself a tradition, that this set of amazing performances is somehow unusual in its interplay of these two supposedly opposed practices—these ideas detract from the musicians and their community. Yes Kenis has done all of us outside Lubumbashi a great favor by bringing us these marvelous performances, but in his drive to marry Europe and Africa, his breathless celebration of hybridity sometimes pushes Africa back into the arms of primitivists. This clearly is not his intention, but when one constantly remarks on the modern-ness of African music, it is hard not to read as a subtext the notion that this modern-ness is somehow remarkable given its location. In spite of these concerns, however, this recording is not to be missed. These are excellent musicians performing great music, however one chooses to categorize it.

By Richard Miller

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