Mbongwana Star @ Band On The Wall, 23 June

Live Review by Ed Bottomley | 27 Jun 2016

Occasionally, events don’t unfold in the way you expect them to. Mbongwana Star’s From Kinshasa is an eerie, innovative, moody, nocturnal LP, drawing influence from West African rhumba, dub, post-punk and Parisian hip-hop. With the absence of producer Doctor L from the band’s current stint of live shows, however, there's a notable change to the aesthetic and tone, into something far more joyous and celebratory.

Stripped back, the multigenerational Congolese collective resemble a nimble garage band, able to skip adeptly between Afrobeat and western classic rock and funk rhythms. Drummer Randy Makana Kalambayi drives the band like a more forceful Tony Allen, building the intensity of his polyrhythmic patterns to climax and resetting for the beginning of each new section. The band also has a real virtuoso in guitarist Jean Claude Kamina Mulodi, whether shredding with subtlety on Malukayi or taking centre stage on crowd favorite Suzanna.   

But it’s the five voices that really come into focus with the decluttering of Mbongwana Star’s set-up. With the rich textures of constantly shifting combinations of beautifully harmonious refrains and infectious, melodic chants, each singer’s personality begins to shine through. In their live manifestation, the darkness of these songs’ recorded forms (Shegue, for example, is ostensibly about Kinshasa’s high population of street children) is shed, as de facto frontmen Théo Ntsituvuidi and Coco Ngambali beam with delight and lift themselves out of their wheelchairs to shake their hips, and the band’s clear zest for playing together grows with the rapturous response of their audience.