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Sunday, August 27, 2006

Konono No, 1, Roppongi Hills Arena, 25th Aug.

I've been trying to think of how to write this review since Friday night. The following came to mind:

"How do you describe music that sounds like nothing you've ever heard before to people? Simple, you don't. You just sit them down in a room and play them the CD. You just let the music talk for itself instead of acting as an intermediary."

Apart from being badly written, it was also the easy way out. Even though the number of visitors this blog has is barely a trickle, I can hardly sit everyone down in a room and play them the CD, so I have to try harder to write a decent review that would hopefully encourage people to at least have a look at the Konono No. 1 website and take things from there. This is where the problems begin. I have some scraps written in my notebook after the concert had finished but there's a lot of repetition and not a lot of coherence. During the concert I was thinking of ways to describe Konono No. 1's sound but my brain kept disengaging with concepts such as adjectives and adverbs, sentences and paragraphs, instead acting like a sponge trying to soak up the sounds it was hearing. Two or three ideas kept recurring - 'pure music', 'elemental music', 'joy in noise' - but they failed to do justice to what was emanating from the stage. The music is pure, it is raw noise fused with joy and energy and for once, the expression 'life-affirming' is not just an overused epithet describing a production-line melody that cynically manipulates the listener in the same way Disney films use cute animals to tug at the audience's heart-strings.

'Elemental' is another over-used term in the lexicon of music writing. It often seems to be used to describe extreme forms of music - avant-garde noise, sludge rock, feedback-drenched psychedelia. 'Elemental' implies white hot sheets of guitar noise and 25 minute one chord epics, something metallic and close to unlistenable, or doom-ladeningly heavy music forged in furnaces in the depths of Lord of The Rings territories. Konono No. 1 are elemental in a simpler way: the music affects you as the elements do - it rains, you get out of the rain; it's hot, you dress down; you hear Konono No.1, you can't help but move. It's not something you have any control over, it's not something you can choose to do or not do. From the sharp blast of the drummer's whistle that sets the whole apparatus of the band in motion, people are moving. It hits some people strongly from the very outset: the guy in front of me for example who I think kept dancing even after the band had gone. Other people take more time to succumb, but not that long. About five minutes into the performance I look around the crowd and there is not one head that isn't nodding, and I'm sure there aren't any hands not tapping out a rhythm, trying to keep up with the two drummers.

The band play for forty minutes without stopping, and when they do stop it's for all of twenty or thirty seconds and I get the feeling they do it for the crowd's benefit, not their own. The whistle blows and then they're off again for another forty minutes. They come back for an encore that lasts about fifteen minutes and then finally they are gone. I'm not sure how many songs they played but it doesn't matter: individual songs are not what counts with this band. They are a gestalt, a force of music and noise and joy and dancers who come and go, smiles that come and go, and a band leader who stands impassively at the back right of the stage for most of the set until the music seems to break down even his formidable resistance and he is at the front of the stage dancing in a way that belies his obvious age. The music is behind all of this, driving it all along, making you move, making you forget about the charlatans and crooks who pass themselves of as musicians and artists, and even offering you some escape from the depressing, dangerous world that we find ourselves in. In the end though, words don't do them justice. The only way to understand this band is through the music, which brings me back to where I started - the music is more eloquent and more convincing than any review could ever be.