To explain every nuance of what Konono No. 1 – a team of Congolese musicians and singers - does would chew up this entire review. There are tales of fabricating bits of instrumentation and amplification out of necessity; of playing likembés (thumb pianos) that sound like ring-tones parsed through broken headsets. Just know that 24 hours before packing the World Cafe Live Thursday, Konono opened for Björk at Radio City Music Hall, giving that eccentric Icelander a run for her mutant-pop money.
It was more than whistles and bells, literal and figurative, that Konono No. 1 brought to the stage. Placed between battered bullhorn speakers, Mawangu Mingiedi and company chanted and chattered atop deeply repetitious rhythms culled from the slamming of a single snare, some cowbells and animal-hide congas, the last played by a guy who never stopped blowing a whistle. (I don't think it ever came out of his mouth.) There's a high-life quality to Konono No. 1's brand of traditional trance, with the chipper bleeps of likembé replacing dancing guitars. But the subtle harshness of distortion on each of the group's vocals and instruments gave the dense wall of rhythm and blip a hardness that sounded as sinister as it was slinky. LCD Soundsystem would kill for KN-1's crushed, compression-heavy groove.
Though snippets of "Lufuala Ndonga" and "Kule Kule" were recognizable, KN-1 pretty much riffed and vamped through 20 minute-plus grooves that achieved its goal of total entrancement, judging by the bodies swaying on the dance floor.
Aphrodesia - the 11-piece opening act from San Francisco - may have seemed, at first, a bit too busily jarring to live up to its sultry name. But Aphrodesia stirred its blend of ska, Afrobeat and Brazilian-Cuban funk nicely with a bottom-heavy groove bolstered by baritone sax, a few slow skanking tunes, and three members in skirts - one a man. What's sexier than that?