For Brussels-based label Crammed Discs, this new compilation seems like a perfect marketing opportunity. ‘Tradi-Mods Vs. Rockers: Alternative Takes On Congotronics’ is the latest instalment in the Congotronics series (releases of Congolese electrified traditional music - see my article in the Features section), and with Animal Collective, Deerhoof and Andrew Bird amongst the contributors, this double disc compilation of “covers, reworks and original compositions” inspired by Congotronics, will undoubtedly bring new listeners. So. The obvious question: can ‘Tradi-Mods Vs. Rockers’ stand on its own as a worthwhile addition to the series, or is it merely a ploy to bring fresh ears to Congotronics?
Crammed Discs have been keen to make it clear that this compilation is not a remix album. The artists involved were encouraged to use the Congotronics music as a jumping off point to create something entirely original, and the freedom afforded to them has resulted in a huge variety of different interpretations of the source material - very few of which could be described as remixes.
The raucous Likembes by Hoquets comes the closest to being a true cover version (of Makembe by Konono No. 1), capturing the energy of the original with some joyfully spazzy instrumentation and call and response vocals with new lyrics; “They play likembes!”. Other artists - such as Animal Collective, who contribute the pulsing, reverb-drenched Quick As White - have used the source material purely as inspiration to come up with entirely new compositions, related only in spirit to the original songs.
Most of the material on ‘Tradi-Mods Vs. Rockers’, however, falls somewhere on the scale between cover version and original. Amongst the highlights, Land Dispute by Aksak Maboul is a stunning realisation of what ‘Tradi-Mods Vs. Rockers’ is trying to achieve. Inspired by the Kasai Allstars track Kabuangoyi, Land Dispute begins as a relatively unassuming wash of acoustic guitars and fuzzed out electronics, but towards the end, a heart-stopping sample of the Kasai Allstars singer, Muambuyi, floats in to bring the song to its utterly arresting conclusion. The respect and care with which Marc Hollander (a.k.a. Aksak Maboul) treats the original material makes for a fitting tribute to “one of [his] all time favourite singers”.
And that’s what ‘Tradi-Mods Vs. Rockers’ is all about. More than a ploy, this compilation is about recognising the beautiful, life-affirming music of these Congolese bands - and paying tribute to it. In listening to ‘Tradi-Mods Vs. Rockers’, one gets a real impression of the lasting effect this music has had on the contributing artists. And in that way, this record is a storming success.