The driving sound of London’s creative music scene cuts right through 360°, the second release from Kongo Dia Ntotila. Led by Mulele Matondo, who is originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo, this ensemble blends Central African dance music together with jazz and other styles to create an energetic mix they refer to as “Kongo Jazz.” This uptempo music is shaped by intricate polyrhythms that feel alive, drawing upon the full technique of the band. Two electric guitars (John Kelly and Diala Sakuba), bass (Mulele Matondo), drums (David Lessie), trumpet (Mike Soper), and sax (Will Scott) lace intricate phrases together with precision while the vocals are split between Matondo and Lessie.
The opening track, “Kongo,” illustrates the proficiency of the band playing their own Congolese rumba with deep seben guitar breaks. The song announces the arrival of the band with a flourish. “Agbwaya” features an infectious clave rhythm with a rolling snare and tight horn jabs. The band seems to propel itself onward as the groove builds, hitting the closing section with a bang.
“Mbongo” references Kris Chali of Amayenge who Matondo had the pleasure of working with when he was in Zambia. The tidy rhythm bounces with the popping guitars to create a great foundation for the vocals and horns. The title track, “360°” digs into the jazzier side of the group. Matondo believes all music comes back full circle to Africa and the blend of jazz and African music here exemplifies that lineage.
The pumping “Faux Boss” references musicians who didn’t credit or pay Matondo for his work. The driving verse resolves to a soukous chorus with group vocals and great trumpet and sax harmonies. The lyrics of “Kinshasa Makambo” addresses a woman who loses her lifestyle when she is widowed and her husband’s family inherits all of the belongings. The back and forth spoken words of Matondo and Lessie work well over the top of the band’s loose, improvised arrangement.
“Naleli” is a solid reggae track that means “I Cry” for Africa. It slides along smoothly and features a nice bass solo from Matondo and some fine guitar work from Kelly. “Feti” is a party song and this uptempo cut is punctuated with terrific twists and turns in a flowing rumba. The gorgeous break shines with gliding guitars and repeated group vocals.
The sextet fits together like a knot on “Koupe Dekale,” with each instrument part of the tight rhythm. The bliss felt on this composition is part of the 'Afro Joy' music that Kongo Dia Ntotila create, bringing influences together to create something undeniably infectious. The album closes with “Mutwashi,” a song that draws on the blues and dominant 7th chords to create a piece that seems to float while being grounded with a sturdy rhythm section. Another fine example of the festive atmosphere the band stirs up with ease.
360° is a fresh statement by a group that is celebrating ten years together. London’s vibrant music scene and Matondo’s leadership has helped push this ensemble towards excellence. The musicians read each other brilliantly and their dynamic Congolese sound is vibrant and engaging. - Alex Brown
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