Review: DRC Music – Kinshasa One Two

Damon Albarn is doing good for the world, and the product is really not bad at all.

Working in conjunction with Japanese-American hip-hop maestro Dan the Automator and over 50 local musicians from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kinshasa One Two is a strange, but not unpleasant record that seriously warrants a second listen. And most commendable of all, all proceeds head directly to support Oxfam’s work in the DRC.

The aesthetic is primarily African, with a hefty dose of more standard abstract, instrumental, mid-tempo dance music. All in all, it sounds less like Blur, and more like Thievery Corporation on an African minibreak.

The original premise is a baffling one: Albarn and the Automator flew into the D.R.C. with iPads clutched in their hot little hands, and worked with local musicians playing tomato tins. It is unsurprising that Kinshasa One Two is consequently a little bit scrappy, not least because this fusion of Afro and Beats had only five days to simmer.

The moody electronics that punctuate the release are pretty standard for a Warp release, but they often don’t quite work within the Kinshasa framework.  At times, the album seems oddly disconnected, and occasionally mired down in a bog of squeaks and beeps. Nonetheless, there are some simply superb individual points.

A particular highlight is opening dub track ‘Hallo’, a duet between Albarn and Congolese Nelly Liyemge, and the only track on which Albarn sings. While the African influence is admittedly fairly light, and the Gorillaz presence very noticeable, the result is well-balanced.

At its best, this is an excellent and well-formed mix of instrumentally driven hip hop, 1970s funk and Congolese dance music. At its worst, it’s a clumsy fudge of electronica and African beats, hastily and awkwardly assembled. All in all: an interesting and largely effective record with truly rewarding moments amongst the dross.