Jesse Baker, NPR
Mawangu Mingiedi, the founder of the band, and his son, Aharon Natondo.
Courtesy Crammed Discs
Konono No. 1 uses an ikembe, or thumb piano, made from used car parts.
Konono No. 1 uses an ikembe, or thumb piano, made from used car parts. Courtesy Crammed Discs
Listen to three songs from Congotronics.
Built on loss, joy and discarded car parts, the music of Konono No. 1 swept through the United States, attracting fans across college campuses and even acclaimed rock musicians such as Wilco, Beck and Tortoise. Now the band has teamed up with fellow Congolese musicians and recorded a second album, Congotronics 2: Buzz'N'Rumble from the Urb'N'Jungle.
The music grew out of the chaos that came with independence. The Belgian Congo became the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 1960. As Belgian colonists fled, they left behind cars, many of which were cannibalized and turned into instruments by would be street musicians — alternator magnets were used in microphones, smashed hubcaps became cymbals and old radios powered by car batteries were turned into amplifiers, and just about anything else that makes a sound when you bang on it became a percussion instrument.
In the 1970s, Angolan musician Mawangu Mingiedi, or simply Papa Mingiedi to his fans, took his thumb piano to Kinshasa. His son, Aharon Natondo, says his father was an instant hit on the streets of Congo's capital.
Papa Mingiedi formed a band, mostly made up of his sons and nephews, and recorded an LP with a French engineer. The then-nameless band got some play on the radio in France and caught the ear of Brussels music producer Vincent Kenis. Over the next 20 years, Kenis sought the unnamed Congolese band he had heard once. Kenis finally found the group in 2000 after three trips to Kinshasa in search of it.