Hallo (featuring Tout Puissant Mukalo and Nelly Liyemge)

An album of Congolese artists is being produced by DRC Music, led by UK musician Damon Albarn. It seems to be in the vein of similar efforts such as Paul Simon’s Running with the Saints or David Byrne’s O Samba.

The question is thus whether Tout Puissant Mukalo, Jupiter and the Okwess International, Bokatola System, Evala Litongo, Nelly Liyemge and others will achieve greater international recognition, or is this really about Albarn? He did not use remote collaboration or cloud for the work and instead traveled in person with a huge crew to sit face-to-face and record and produce local sound in the Congo.

Hallo (featuring Tout Puissant Mukalo and Nelly Liyemge) by DRC Music

One of the strangest things I find is that Albarn lays down his fairly simplistic beats before Congolese sounds are layered over them. This is like an American executive from McDonalds traveling to France and telling a chef that they are going to “collaborate” on a meal by using the chef’s sauce on two all beef patties with a sesame seed bun. Albarn’s production crew could work on producing sounds and poetry on top but why take away the most important elements of Congolese music?

So the boring Gorillaz style of beat is what turns me away from the example above. Nelly Liyemge sounds awesome but totally out of place with the low-energy slow beat. Here’s another sample:

Lingala (featuring Bokatola System and Evala Litongo) by DRC Music

Boom, chick, boom, chick? The timeline should fade into the beat, not be the beat. It gets better after 30 seconds but still sounds watered down from the beats straight out of the DRC.

The above songs will be released on an album called Kinshasa One Two by Warp Records next month (October 3rd). They are said to be a benefit for Oxfam. Too bad Oxfam could not just release Congolese music directly to the world as a benefit. I wonder if they have to cover the costs of “production” by a large group traveling in person to Kinshasa, DRC.

Here’s a wonderfully complex soukous beat that Albarn misses completely in the above examples:

…not to mention street beats. Just about every song in the following compilation video, recorded live, puts Albarn’s production to shame. 5:18 is perhaps the most comparable style but on a whole different level:

Maybe Albarn just didn’t know what to do when he heard Congolese rhythms like the following drum line or maybe the project is really just about him being only slightly influenced by them:

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