American rhythm specialists Kongos brought their mighty and fascinating sound to London. On the day after the US presidential election in which Donald J Trump was chosen as the 45th President of the USA, they rocked into town in a shocked state. They are all brothers and share the family name, Kongos.
In their stage shows the band are happy to include their many influences whether it be kwaito dance from South Africa or qawwali from Pakistan and their music does take in a lot of global styles and beats.
It is easy to make comparisons with others who have done this type of thing before, including their own father John Kongos and obviously Paul Simon but something else is going on here.
Each song is like a tribal dance that has its own moves and meanings, the drum playing and percussion of Jesse Kongos accentuate that. This group don’t play the whole concert in common time, let alone a whole song, often changing the time signature a few times throughout. It is clever but uncomplicated music.
The new album Egomaniac takes up most of the set list and they open with Repeat After Me and Underground. By the fourth song in you get a clear idea of what this band is about. They are all such accomplished musicians that Daniel, Dylan and Jesse take it in turns to share lead vocals impressing with their vocal ranges and songwriting.
The middle of the gig is given over to a cover of The Beatles’ Get Back, as funky as it comes with an blistering bass line and a guest spot for tour manager turned rapper Mo Gordon. What follows this is a faithful version of John Kongos’ (their father) 1970s tale of the evil water spirit who gets blamed for all mishaps, Tokoloshe Man.
Johnny Kongos is the eldest of the four brothers and a pianist and accordionist. Classically trained his melodies compliment each song and their global hit Come With Me Now is an awesome example as he leads off with zydeco style playing and the rest of the band join in the song to hit frenzied heights as the chorus is sung out by everyone in the room.
The bands two most recent albums Lunatic and Egomaniac have a spiritual feel to them and indirectly have hints of mythicality and legend running through them. The songs I’m Only Joking and set closer Escape are great examples of this with chant like storytelling giving way to one of their quieter and subtler tunes.
As a post industrial head banger version of New Order‘s Blue Monday plays out as the encore, two things strike me. One, is how awesome Kongos are as songwriters, musicians and performers and two, why are they not bigger than they are!
Words and Photography by Simon Jay Price. Kongos at Islington Academy, London on 9th November 2016.