Staff Benda Bilili was a globe-spanning success story–a collection of inventive youths and polio-stricken veterans, homeless musicians from the biggest city in the Democratic Republic of Congo, who channeled the classic Congolese rumba into two incredible albums, before disappearing all too soon.
Too good to be gone forever, Staff Benda Bilili’s songwriter and vocalists Coco Ngambali and Theo Nzonza are back in a new band called Mbongwana Star, whose sci-fi inflected video appears above.
This new track doesn’t really sound anything like the old band, although it’s unclear how representative this track is of the rest of the album. “Malukayi” is dominated by the sounds of the beloved Konono No. 1. Even for Afropop listeners—who are savvy enough not to take a likembé for an mbira, rather than call it something silly like a “thumb piano”—those Konono No. 1 records had something new. That fuzzing and buzzing of homemade “Congotronics” made an impression abroad, and, from what we’re hearing, back home as well.
That trademark fuzz should fit right in. Mbongwana Star’s album was “all recorded in the red,” according to the album’s producer, Liam Farrell. A fixture of the Parisian hip-hop and electronic scene, “Doctor L,” as Farrell is known, produced Tony Allen’s Black Voices record and promised to bring the distortion.
“Sometimes I over-boost mikes that are recording nothing, just to pick up the kind of environment that’s around me now,” Doctor L said in a press release. “Can you hear it? There are three TVs going full blast. Distortion multiplies the energy. I love it!”
The energy is certainly flowing through this Mbongwana Star track, although once you know where the band came from, you realize it doesn’t take three TVs going full blast for them to get going. All you need is a microphone.