To date, the Congotronics series has featured music by bands such as Konono N°1, Kasai Allstars, Sobanza Mimanisa, Kisanzi Congo, Masanka Sankayi and Basokin. These bands play what is referred to in the Congo as tradi-moderne music, and comprise musicians who left the bush in order to settle in Kinshasa, the capital of the Democratic Republic Of The Congo.
In order to continue to fulfill their social role (they play at weddings, funerals and social gatherings) and make themselves heard by their fellow citizens despite the high level of urban noise, they had to resort to a makeshift electrification of their instruments, which provoked a radical mutation of their sound. The much-commented similarities between this music and some forms of avant-rock or electronica is purely fortuitous, since these bands draw exclusively on traditional trance music and have been totally unaware of current Western trends so far.
Notable Congotronics bands
- Konono N°1 is the band which first introduced electrified traditional Congolese music to broader audiences in North America and Europe. The band was founded in the 1960s by Mingiedi Mawangu, a virtuoso of the likembé (a traditional instrument sometimes called "sanza", kalimba, mbira or "thumb piano", consisting of metal rods attached to a resonator). The band's line-up includes three electric likembés (bass, medium and treble), equipped with hand-made microphones built from magnets salvaged from old car parts, and plugged into amplifiers.
- Kasai Allstars: A province the size of France situated in the center of Congo, Kasai is well known for its diamond fields and vivid musical traditions. This collective of artists incorporates members from four different Kasaian bands, including Basokin and Masanka Sankayi, and personalities as diverse as singer Muambuyi (from West Kasai), and singer/dancer/slit drum player Tandjolo (from the Tetela region, which links Kasai to the Equator province).
- Masanka Sankayi: dancers, singers and story-tellers Muyamba Nyunyi and Kabongo from East Kasai have been together since the 1970s. Muyamba the preacher is also an excellent bass likembe player. Unlike Konono's, his instrument is a 20" square box featuring half a likembe on each side and on which he sits in a foetus-like position.
- Sobanza Mimanisa (orchestra of light) are the resident band in Nganda Boboto, in the Selembao district. They perform with a limited range of instruments: a bell, a whistle, makeshift percussion, a guitar - whose 'power chord' style is very unusual in Kinshasa - and a likembe playing the bass and solo parts at the same time. Sobanza Mimanisa comes from the Bacongo province.
- Kisanzi Congo’s line-up is similar to Konono’s, and they also come from the Bacongo province (specifically the Mbeko region). But whereas Konono's electric likembes use raw power to carry their message, Kisanzi Congo rely more on virtuosity and adopt a freer form.
- Basokin (the Basongye from Kinshasa) are from the Songye region, at the Eastern fringe of Kasai. Their frontman Mputu Ebondo 'Mi Amor' is a well-known spokesman for the Songye and Kasaian community.
- Bolia We Ndenge come from the Lake Mai Ndombe. They're remarkable by their central use of the accordion, an instrument which had become very popular in Congo until it was supplanted by the guitar in the ‘50s.
- Congotronics 1 by Konono N°1 (2004)
- Congotronics 2 - Buzz'n'Rumble In The Urb'n'Jungle, a multi-artist album comprising a CD and a DVD, and featuring original material by Konono N°1, Basokin, Masanka Sankayi, Kasai Allstars, Bolia We Ndenge, Sobanza Mimanisa, Kisanzi Congo and Tulu (2005)
- Live At Couleur Café by Konono N°1 (2007; this album was nominated for a Grammy Award)
- In The 7th Moon, The Chief Turned Into A Swimming Fish And Ate The Head Of His Enemy By Magic by Kasai Allstars(2008)
- Assume Crash Position by Konono N°1 (2010)
- The album Très Très Fort by Staff Benda Bilili is considered as closely related but not strictly part of the Congotronics series.
- The Congotronics Vinyl Box Set (2010): in April 2010, Crammed Discs have released a limited edition box set, containing vinyl versions of all the albums listed above (except Konono N°1's Live At Couleur Café, but including the Staff Benda Bilili album and Konono N°1's Assume Crash Position), plus assorted bonuses including a 7" single featuring a collaboration between Kasai Allstars and US indie-folk-rock band Akron/Family, as well as videos and mp3s.
- Congotronics 5 - Beware the Fetish by Kasai Allstars (2014)