KOKOKO! are a truly joyous force to behold live, and they certainly proved this and then some at Fabric end of last month.
Fabric. It’s a bloody institution. As its vast shadow looms over me, I can definitely say that this is the first time I have arrived here before 9pm and definitely the first time I’ve arrived sober. I’m here to see KOKOKO!, a Congolese collective of artists in collaboration with French producer Debruit.
The floor is packed. I push my way to the front corner and wedge in against a fire exit, tiny beer in hand. Suddenly, the noise of the crowd is punctuated with shouts and the beep of car horns whips around the room. It’s a recreation of the bustling streets of Kinshasa, the capital of the Congo. The door behind me opens and drummer and vocalist Makara Bianco storms through the crowd, megaphone in hand as sirens wail. Then the band assembles on stage in matching yellow jumpsuits as opening track ‘Likolo’ begins.
The audience are raucous for a Thursday night. We’re led through a dizzyingly energetic set, with lo-fi cheeky bangers like ‘Tokoliana’ paving the way more frenetic dance tracks such as ‘Azo Toke’. The crowd is constantly drawn in to call and responses and we do so with rapturous enthusiasm.
KOKOKO! play a mixture of western and homemade instruments. The western ones mainly consist of synthesizers played by Debruit. It would be so easy to look at the other instruments (which sound amazing, by the way): a row of plastic bottles taped together, some old saucepans that look suspiciously like the ones my mum used to have, a one-stringed guitar with a body made out of a tin can; and see them as some sort of novelty they have brought here with them for us to marvel at. But it’s so much more than that. It’s a statement. The songs themselves add another layer to this. It’s heady, pulsating dance music, with twinkling melodies and rumbling synths. You can taste the influence of Detroit techno and French electronica as much as the modern Kintasha drive away from traditional Congolese music. The instruments represent a reclamation of the western idea of what it means to come from Africa. At the same time, these instruments have been created because of how expensive it is in a place like Kinshasa to own an instrument like a guitar. Europe brutally colonised the Congo in the 1860s and it was not til 1960 that it gained independence. Now we mine their landscape for diamonds and precious metals for our mobile phones and televisions whilst their government denies a humanitarian crisis. By playing venues such as Fabric and Berghain, KOKOKO! are reshaping live dance music, whilst simultaneously addressing politics through performance art.