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Photo: Xavier Thomas
Photo: Xavier Thomas

KOKOKO! Craft an Ode to Congolese Nightlife on BUTU

The DRC duo bring a DIY attitude and a boundless sense of creativity to a sophomore album that chronicles a typical night out in Kinshasa. 

by Ben Boddez

Hailing from Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo, vocalist Makara Bianko of the experimental electro-pop and future-punk duo KOKOKO! explains that one of the singles off their sophomore project is about “someone imitating, appropriating someone else’s creations, style or charisma” and “karma getting back at people who can’t be original and claim things that they haven’t created.” Listening to the duo’s work, it’s abundantly clear just how much that spirit of creativity means to him – especially for someone belonging to a band that prides themselves on skirting financial barriers to music-making by using homemade and upcycled instruments, many of which were literally found on the street: pots and pans, empty bottles, discarded engine parts, and the like.

With an album title that translates to The Night, BUTU opens with a field recording of car horns, loud conversations and the general rumble of a night out downtown – but these sounds are ultimately chopped up, arranged rhythmically, underscored by an eerie, buzzing synth and turned into a backdrop for Bianko to unleash his passionate rallying cries. These tracks are built on breakneck percussion, club-ready synths, guitar riffs mixed all the way to the front, engaging chants and harmonized singing. The sounds shift between obviously raw recordings, played live, and turning these sounds into something synthetic and mechanical, but in the most invigorating of ways – a constant barrage. They take what some might call the rhythms of real life and make them even more literally rhythmic.

Like many of the best acts of recent years, it feels as though KOKOKO! are blending something deeply historical and cultural with futuristic sounds. They bring it into a new context so that music fans in search of something imbued with foundational decades of meaning, but something groundbreaking at the same time, can enjoy the cross-section. The homemade percussion fires you up more than you’d expect – it just feels like something completely unvarnished and natural in an overly touched-up and heavily marketed world.