Founded in 2003 by Piscko Crane, Congolese “ecological and Afro-futurist” punk collective Fulu Miziki have attracted an international following for their industrious take on the region’s “rumba”, Afro-inspired big band music. -Cuban. sounds. In response to a waste management crisis in the country’s capital, Kinshasa, the band is making its own instruments and stage clothes from scrap material, hence its name, which roughly translates from Lingala to “garbage music”. “.
So far, the band have been content to focus on their futuristic onstage pageantry, but the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic brought them into the studio for the first time. While their first EP, Ngbaka, is above all a party record, tinged with an emergency background, imploring the listener to shake their ass in one breath and proclaiming “the end of the world” in the next. The juxtaposition reflects the crossroads where Fulu Miziki operates: rooted in the festive rumba music of their hometown but influenced by the experimental EDM-inspired Nyege Nyege scene thriving in Uganda, where the band relocated in late 2019.
The eerie atmosphere of tracks like “Lokito,” which is replete with rusty mechanical rumble, is the product of Fulu Miziki’s recent embrace of electronic production. Isolating and refining samples from each jerrycan or repurposed PVC pipe improves the plasticity of their already plastic instruments. The process is reminiscent of recycled sound design on Matmos plastic birthdaythough Fulu Miziki is more interested in rhythmic ingenuity than manipulating their sources to create unearthly timbres.
The choice of electronic arrangements highlights the complexity of the group’s work, particularly on Ngbakainstrumental cuts. “Mokili Makambo” plays like a one-man recreation of a live Fulu Miziki jam, but the clean mix allows for more space between the moving parts. Twangy guembri– a traditional three-string bass guitar, which Fulu Miziki fashions from a computer case – swings between a gauntlet of competing percussion before giving way to a choppy brass melody. The tension mounts as more and more drummers enter the fray. At the end of the song, each measure is so dense that it melts into a delirious reverie.
Without the energy of an audience to feed, NgbakaThe more vocal songs aren’t always as engaging as they are onstage, where band members steal call-and-response verses. In the studio, Fulu Mizki’s isolated vocal takes can’t quite capture the hypnotic effect of these rich, serpentine rounds. “Toko Yambana,” which draws imagery from the apocalyptic flood myth, is skeletal in excess, decorating a frugal four-a-side kick on the floor with a floating tom loop and nebulous synth pads.
“Bivada,” Fulu Miziki’s ode to the workers who keep Kinshasa’s markets running, overcomes studio limitations by playing with as many vocal effects as possible. Arpeggiated synths knot as echoing vocals emerge from every angle in the stereo field, Auto-Tuned choirs shimmering wildly. It’s here that Fulu Miziki looks furthest into the future, while staying true to his frenetic and highly collaborative sound. They have spent almost two decades shaping waste in their image; Ngbaka extends their sculptures to a new medium. Though digitally processed and neatly arranged, their resuscitation of intangible sounds is as ramshackle and disjointed as ever.