Congolese band Konono Nº1 scored a crossover world roots/techno hit with their albums for Crammed Disc records and this solo artist from Sierra Leone covers similar territory, though with more of an acoustic roots emphasis. As with many musicians in war-torn lands, the story both of how the recording was made and the personal testimony are tragic and heartwarming in equal measure.
Sorie Kondi is a blind thumb piano, or kondi as it is known, who hails from Sierra Leone. He was most certainly a victim of the civil war and, when rebel troops staged an assault on the capital of Freetown (a most unlikely name for a city that was anything but in reality), had recorded an album the masters of which became lost and he probably believed his one and only chance to make a name for himself had been lost.
Fortunately, for Kondi and the rest of the music world oblivious to his talents and history, an American sound engineer, Luke Wassermann, spotted Kondi performing on the thumb piano and was sufficiently impressed by the musician to set up a recording date. This duly came out on cassette (the preferred format in Africa at the time) in July 2007, and later on CD in the United States. Fast forward a few years and in the Mid-West DJ and producer Chief Boima came across an online video of a track by Sorie Kondi, ‘Without money, may family’, and decided to remix the track. The fusion between thumb piano and techno dance was thus born.
If that is the genesis behind the recording, then what of the music and the lyrics? The hypnotic opener, ‘Yeanoh (powe handa blingabe)’ has been attracting a lot of attention and the repetitive riff of the kondi allied with his voice makes for a potent combination. Connections with techno are of course tenuous, but when you hear a piece such as, ‘Bella wahalla’, where keyboards and thumb piano plus vocals come together, the sound created is far from contrived and definitely works.
Throughout this album, a dance friendly pulse is present and this adds to a most enjoyable listen and when you factor in the socially conscious lyrics. The custom-made fifteen pin thumb piano sound is worth the exploration alone.