A Western, Congolese Celebration
In July of 2011, Damon Albarn of Blur and Gorillaz traveled to Kinshasa to create a musical project that would fuse Western music with traditional and contemporary African culture. With ten other producers and local Congolese musicians like Tout Puissant Mukalo and Nelly Liyemge, Albarn formed DRC Music (Democratic Republic of Congo Music) and recorded Kinshasa One Two in an impressive seven days, solely in Congo.
The biggest mistake that can be made upon listening to Kinshasa One Two is to compare Western and non-Western music with the same “good/bad” standards. Simply put, the two are inherently incomparable. However, a creative fusion between the two can present the listener with a rich palette of sounds that transcends values judgments and embraces the contrast and harmony between starkly different cultures. DRC’s Kinshasa One Two effectively accomplishes this effect, celebrating Western and African diversity.
Each track on the album has a healthy balance between Congolese and Western sounds. Songs like “K-Town,” “African Space Anthem (ASA),” “Ah Congo,” “Lingala,” and “If You Wish To Stay Awake” are the best examples of an equal mix between both cultures. These tracks take instruments like the non-chromatic marimba, hand drums, and gankoqui (African bells) and blend them with electronic samples and beats. “Hallo” and “Customs” seem to be the most Westernized tracks on the album with heavier sampling and a stronger backbeat feel. The more exotic tracks on Kinshasa One Two include the a cappella “Love,” “Lourds,” which features powerful vocals and African lyrics, “We Come From the Forest,” “Virginia,” and “Three Piece Sweet Parts 1 & 2.”
Kinshasa One Two is an album packed with powerful moments that paint a vivid picture of hope for cultural coexistence in Kinshasa. Though it’s sometimes easy to spot where the seven-day deadline came into play, these small moments shouldn’t undermine the quality of this collaboration. Proceeds from Albarn’s project benefit Oxfam, a humanitarian foundation dedicated to creating a self-sustaining DRC.