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Album Review: DRC Music, Kinshasa One Two

Damon Albarn, Warp Records and the collective DRC Music help support Oxfam’s work in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
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“Every day in the DRC there are thousands of people who need education, clean water, sanitation and basic hygiene. The situation here has been out of the media spotlight for too long.”

This is a call for support from Pauline Ballaman, Oxfam’s DRC Country Director. So how do you effectively catapult these issues into the media? Evidence of Oxfam’s response has trickled across the web through rumours, sound snippets and most recently an official trailer. Release dates now confirmed, DRC Music and their debut album, Kinshasa One Two, is perhaps the most hotly anticipated project to come out of Africa this year. The concept of DRC Music came from Damon Albarn, a man whose authority on Africa comes from practical experience: 2002’s Mali Music (also in association with Oxfam), this April’s Owiny Sigoma Band and the ongoing Africa Express, which has helped launch the careers of Baloji and Fatoumata Diawara.

Another exciting name is Intelligent Dance pioneers Warp Records, who agreed to produce the record. “It’s completely, brilliantly, unlike anything we’ve undertaken before”, say the label, “but nonetheless feels like a very natural endeavour for us to be a part of.” Natural indeed; Kinshasa One Two opens in trademark Warp fashion with a somewhat menacing wall of sound. Electronic bleeps puncture the darkness, quiet at first and then, with a subtle turn of an effects knob, a first breath of African life as the bleeps adopt a wooden, xylophone-esque quality. The wall of sound is lifted to reveal chattering Congolese voices.

The album plays like a journey with many chapters. Kinshasa One Two is at times sparse, at times hectic, at times mellow and melodic. Some tracks are temporarily overcome by waves of background noise; the assembling and clattering of recording equipment, laughter, the toot of a car horn. The fast-paced street dialect of Kinshasa, where the album was recorded over five intensive days, lends itself naturally to urban music. Track four and Love (featuring Love) is an explosive a cappella display of this potential. Other Congolese vocalists such as Yende Bongongo, Tout Puissant Mukalo and Bebson give their input as Warp, with Albarn and several other UK producers at the controls, boasts its expertise when it comes to electronic ambience. The dubstep influenced Hallo (featuring Albarn and Nelly Liyemge on vocals) explores a more contemporary electronic style, and makes for an obvious choice for DRC Music’s spearhead single.

A personal highlight is We Come From The Forest, a percussion driven track that takes us away from the urban sprawl of Kinshasa. The track introduces hindewhu, a style of whistle-playing found throughout Central Africa. Call and response vocals- male on call, female on response- are enriched by resonating woody echoes. This is the romatic image of the Congolese that led the popular anthropologist Colin Turnbull to label them as ‘forest people’. “When we sing, we sing to the forest” explained Moke, a Bambuti elder in coversation with Turnbull in the late 1950’s. “There is darkness all around us; but if darkness is, and the darkness is of the forest, then the darkness must be good.” As has been utilised by Oxfam, Albarn and Kinshasa’s homegrown wealth of tallent, the uplifting power in DRC’s deep-rooted music culture has not been forgotten.

Warp will digitally release Kinshasa One Two on the 3rd of October. A CD/vinyl release will follow on the 7th of November, with all profits going towards Oxfam’s work in the DRC.

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