Konono No. 1 have combined the spirit of traditional African music with the junk instrument concept and the progressive electronic aspect of modern times.
The group's full name was L'Orchestre Folklorique T.P. Konono No. 1 de Mingiedi, "T.P." being translated as "all powerful." (It was also a tribute to the band of the legendary Congolese musician Franco
, which was called T.P.O.K. Jazz.) The band was founded by Mawangu Mingiedi, a member of the Zombo or Bazombo ethnic group, whose homeland was located near the Congo border with Angola. Mingiedi was born in Angola in 1933 and moved to Kinshasa, in the former Zaire, in 1949; he was a longtime taxi and truck driver trying to support a large family. He started the band as Orchestre Tout Puissant Likembe Konono No. 1 in the mid- to late '60s. Originally, they adapted Zombo ritual music played by an ensemble of horns made from elephant tusks, but they switched their signature instruments to the likembe, also called the mbira, kalimba, or sanza, commonly known as the metal reed thumb piano. Their first recording was on the compilation Zaire: Musiques Urbaines a Kinshasa. The first album by Konono No. 1 was recorded and produced by Vincent Kenis, who also worked with Zap Mama
, Taraf de Haïdouks
, and Koçani Orkestar
. The band began to amplify the likembes, starting with low-frequency six-volt radios, then 12-volt radios from cars. Their sound system was built from handmade microphones, old car parts, megaphones, and discarded amps, and they used junked auto pieces and pots and pans as percussion instruments. Becoming the premier music ambassadors from the Congo and suburban Kinshasa, their distortion-laden beat and trance music set a standard for modern world music. Their debut American album, Congotronics, was released on the Crammed Discs
label, and they became one of many similar bands from their homeland on the 2005 compilation Congotronics 2: Buzz 'n' Rumble from the Urb 'n' Jungle. The Dutch rock band the Ex
covered one of their songs, and the group collaborated with Björk
on the song "Earth Intruders" for her 2007 studio album Volta. Live at Couleur Café, also released in 2007, captured one of the ensemble's riveting performances.