When the electrifying, trancelike street music spearheaded by veteran Congolese band Konono No. 1 reached Western ears in the early 2000s, it sounded like something beamed in from Mars. Konono’s music was based around traditional instruments like the likembe thumb piano, but the need to use hand-built, jury-rigged amplifiers to be heard on busy Kinshasa streets brought in heavy, loud distortion that gave Konono a rough, propulsive, hypnotic edge. It sounded weirdly and radically modern—the same kind of thing that forward-thinking punk and electronic musicians like Sonic Youth had been playing around with for years, but approached from an entirely unexpected angle.
The Konono aesthetic has had some time now to filter through Western indie-rock and electronica, and it’s expanded intriguingly on the double-disc compilation Tradi-Mods Vs. Rockers, which opens up the floor to 26 American, British, and German indie bands who rework material from Konono and other Congolese bands, including Kasai Allstars. The results are largely enthralling, and sometimes nearly as revelatory as Konono itself sounded in 2004. Heard in context on Tradi-Mods, for instance, the seamlessly incorporated influence of Konono on Andrew Bird’s electronically processed, looped violin is obvious. The disc is a triumph, and a great example of what a remix album should be: reverent to what made the original material fascinating, but not so much that it can’t fly away in its own unexpected directions.