Former Blur member-turned-master collaborator Damon Albarn led the ‘virtual band’ Gorillaz to the top of the charts with a little help from big name guests like MF Doom, Snoop Dogg, and Bobby Womack (not to mention Bruce Willis), and in 2006 he spearheaded the Good, The Bad And The Queen project with Danger Mouse, Paul Simonon of the Clash and Tony Allen of Fela Kuti’s Africa 70 band. For his newest collaboration, Albarn returned to territory similar to what he explored on his 2002 record, Mali Music, with the new DRC Music project. Made up of a group of producers including T-E-E-D (Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs), Dan The Automator and Jneiro Jarel among others, the DRC Music producers adventured to the Congo earlier this year with the plan to make an album in seven days and donate all proceeds to Oxfam.
Kinshasa One Two, the culmination of their recording sessions with Congolese musicians in the capital of Kinshasa during that week, is as extensive and wide-ranging as its multi-continental musicians are. In this case, the combination of African styles with western production techniques come together as successfully as peanut butter and jelly. The songs oscillate between Congolese compositions that have been flipped around and sampled by the DRC Music team, those that have been left intact, and those where the line is blurred.
Albarn swaps vocals with the honey-voiced Congo native Nelly Liyemge over a boom-bapping Afro-pop beat on the outstanding track “Hallo,” the only appearance by a non-African vocalist on the record. On tracks like the breezy “Lourds” and the endlessly catchy stomp of “K-Town” the DRC producers simply point their mics at the local musicians and let them speak for themselves. But elsewhere, on tracks like the marathoning electronica of “Lingala,” the shuffling “African Space Anthem” and the chopped-up patchwork of “If You Wish To Stay Awake,” Albarn’s crew rearrange their recordings into electronically leaning re-imaginings of the Congo sound.
Kinshasa One Two’s myriad of styles and motley participants never cease to criss-cross and collide, sublimely blending earthy tones with sleek production maneuvers to create one of the year’s most unique records. Its languages, both musical and oral, lend it a degree of intrigue that will warrant repetitive spins no matter where you’re from.