Kasai Allstars ‘Black Ants Always Fly Together, One Bangle Makes No Sound’ LP/CD (Crammed Discs) 3/5

Kasai Allstars is a Congolese collective, based in Kinshasa with a core of fifteen musicians, plus many, many guests. They have been internationally recognised since their 2008 debut, the equally impressively titled “In the 7th Moon, the Chief Turned into a Swimming Fish and Ate The Head Of His Enemy By Magic” as part of the Congotronics series by Belgian label, Crammed Discs. The latest album sees the collective embrace Congo-electronics with greater use of synths and machine beats.

“Kasai Munene” is a prime example of the group’s new electronic direction. A little of the grungy edge endearing in previous releases is smoothed by shiny electronic beats and sunny upbeat stabs of keyboards. The standout track, “Olooh, a War Dance for Peace” is slower, moodier and more interesting with the hypnotic prominent guitar lines. The timbre of the numerous singers contrast and coalesce. “Musungu Elongo Paints His Face White to Scare Small Children” kicks off on a disco groove but the electronic drum patterns evolve into something more complex, sparring with the fuzzy guitar. On “Like a Dry Leaf on a Tree”, the circular melodic lines merge into a complex whole and the effect is sweet and laid-back. Nimble, repetitive, xylophone and call-and-response vocals drive the uptempo “The Large Bird, the Woman and the Baby”.

“Baba Bende” is bright and breezy with thin synth sounds and melodic vocals. “The Ecstasy of Singing” is slower and mellow but with bursts of rhythmic spice to keep it interesting, “Hunters and Farmers Need the Blacksmith” builds towards an urgent and intense percussion-fest. Electronic drums are to the fore in “Betrayal by Gossip” which give it a bit of an 80s production vibe. The lightness of the synth and guitar on “Unity Is Strength” is offset by the direct bass-y undercurrent. “Allstars All Around”s syncopated rhythms are layered with glossy keys and gnarly distorted likembe (finger piano).“The Goat’s Voice (Lullaby)” fluid and shifting rhythm is engrossing.

This record is a significant departure sound-wise from the previous albums, incorporating electronic drums and keyboards. It’s exciting to see Kasai Allstars seeking new sonic areas and the impact that has had on the songs. Sometimes for me, the sounds are a bit too clean so some of the grittiness that makes their earlier work more attractive is a little lacking here. It’s a good album and the supple and dynamic drum patterns are a masterclass in rhythm.

Kevin Ward