Congotronics International share two new tracks from debut LP ten years in the making

“Mulume/Change” and “Bombo & Sifflets” are the fourth and fifth offerings from Where’s the One, due out April 29 via Crammed Discs.

April 14, 2022
Congotronics International share two new tracks from debut LP ten years in the making Photo by Mattia Zoppellaro.  

Congotronics International will release their long-awaited debut LP Where's the One on April 29. Today, after sharing the album's first three offerings — "Banza Banza," "Beyond the 7th Bend," and the title cut — over the course of the past two months, they're premiering the album's fourth and fifth singles, "Mulume/Change" and “Bombo & Sifflets” with The FADER. Listen to the new songs, and read our interview with six of the international super group's 19 musicians and the project's curator Marc Hollander below.


Where's the One's roots run back to the late aughts, when Belgian indie label Crammed Discs began releasing the music of Congolese rockers, particularly Konono Nº1 and Kasai Allstars, in the U.S. and Europe. Artists from both sides of the Atlantic began to take note, and in 2010, the imprint released a 26-track tribute album titled Tradi-Mods vs. Rockers, followed by the 2011 Congotronics vs. Rockers tour, which brought those two groups together with San Francisco art-rock legends Deerhoof, Argentine singer-songwriter Juana Molina, Swedish psychedelic duo Wildbirds & Peacedrums, and Matthew Mehlan of New York improvisational "entertainment unit" Skeletons.

The new album comprises lives songs from that 16-stop festival tour and remotely recorded studio cuts from the years that followed into a sprawling, 21-track epic. The two new singles are perfect examples of the collective's endless versatility: "Mulume/Change" — pulled straight from the concert setting — is a multi-lingual, seven-minute saga featuring a polyrhythmic chorus of formidable vocalists, as well as several electric guitars and thumb pianos, two basses and five percussionists. And "Bombo & Sifflets" includes live and recorded elements, spanning sounds from four continents in an insanely jam-packed two-and-a-half minutes. With 16 more songs on the way, one can only imagine the fertile ground yet to be explored.

"Bombo & Sifflets"
Congotronics International Q&A

The FADER: It's been a long decade since the Congotronics vs. Rockers tour. How has the core idea of the band changed since then? What parts have stayed the same?

Mariam Wallentin (Wildbirds & Peacedrums): We haven’t yet all met again, but we are each still working on our music, trying our best to spread love and good energy. We are a loose bunch of people spread out wide across the globe, so this is also a way for us to meet up again, trying to connect and speak the universal language that music is, with rhythms, dancing and having some fun.

Marc Hollander (Crammed Discs, curator of the project): After the 2011 tour, the idea was to get everyone together again, initiate new collaboration, have some of the Western band members travel to the Congo to meet and work with Kasai Allstars and Konono No.1. For many reasons (geographical, financial, as well as the bands’ respective schedules), none of this could be made to happen. So, in recent years, the active core of the band has consisted in the people who worked on doing more production and mixing work on the album. Greg Saunier, first and foremost, who mixed the majority of the record, and John Dieterich, who worked on a series of tracks. They were joined by Matt Mehlan and Vincent Kenis (who both contributed some mixing), and myself (I did some production & mixing on a few of the studio jams which were recorded at the time, and edited some dialogues and rehearsal sounds). That said, some collaborative work between the participants recently took place: Juana Molina was invited to appear on a Deerhoof album, Deerhoof remixed some Kasai Allstars music, and more such exchanges are bound to take place soon. One remarkable extension of the Congotronics International story is about to take place in London, as Kasai Allstars and Hot Chip are working on a one-off collab show which will take place on June 14, as part of this years’ edition of the Meltdown Festival, curated this time by Grace Jones. The show will be called ‘Hot Congotronics’, and new recordings are likely to take place. Enduring friendships were born during the Congotronics vs Rockers tour, and the story will keep unfolding.


Working remotely on a 21-track album is a massive undertaking, and I imagine finishing a project of that size with a completely collective decision-making process could pretty bureaucratic at times. What were some conflicts that came up during the long recording process and how did you overcome them? Was there voting involved?

John Dieterich (Deerhoof): As with any collaboration, I'm sure everybody in the group would give a different answer to this. The project began as a bunch of demos being sent back and forth across thousands of miles. There was no organization or prevailing method, only listening to what was presented and trying to respond creatively. I tried to approach it not from some set position but rather to think improvisationally, trying things that seemed ridiculous or pointless — e.g. learning complicated likembe or vocal parts note for note ("For Augustin," "Even the Boa Can't Swallow a Viper"), combining 4 or 5 separate improvisations into one song ("Many Tongues In Our Band") or simply attempting to write a song in real time with people speaking 4 or 5 or however many different languages. As much as I loved the live band, my heart was always with the weird little small-group jam sessions and offhand magic moments that would happen between rehearsals, most of which were never actually recorded, but there were a few things that were, and in off days random factions would go into recording studios to write and record ideas. When the idea came up of making a record, I immediately was excited to make something from those, and I went through and started playing around with them. At the same time, Greg Saunier was completely sold on making a live-only record and had zero interest in any of these other recordings. In the end, the record's a bit of both. In retrospect, this project feels more like stabs at finding a way into different ways of thinking, different modes of imagining. We were coming up with ideas not for who we were or for who the other people were but for our imaginations of who all these other people might be. We of course knew that we were all mishearing and misunderstanding each other, but we had a common goal, so in the end it didn't matter too much if we were on the same page as long as we actually could make it through the song. It felt like a monumental success to make through a song! Deerhoof operated less as a collective and more as individuals within this confusing juggernaut, which was unique — everybody had to find their own way of negotiating the cultural/linguistic/musical complexities of it.

Vincent Kenis (curator/producer of the Congotronics series, co-founder of Kasai Allstars, bass player in this band): A good deal of the album was recorded by the whole band, on stage, in multitrack, with a few overdubs. If there was indeed intense collective decision-making on this project it was upstream, during the rehearsals and improvised jams that preceded and punctuated the tour. On the other hand, mixing being typically the job of a single man who’d rather avoid conflicting opinions from 20 artists who don’t speak a common language, there was no concertations at the mixing stage. Even less votes, as Greg Saunier's brilliance is such that we unanimously approve him whatever he does. Anyway I would have voted for him, seeing no reason not to have total confidence in this guy in the studio as on stage. I was not disappointed.


Mariam Wallentin: Me and Andreas [Werlin] are both control freaks when it comes to our own productions and releases, but here we trusted the other people and found it best not to interfere with the after-work process. To let go is a good practice and a luxury when it feels good and is possible.

"Mulume/Change" and "Bombo & Sifflets" both feel, in the best way, as if they were captured during jam sessions. How did you achieve that loose, jammy feel when you were all scattered across the world, and do you think your process could be a blueprint for other big groups recording in isolation as the industry moves further in that direction?

Greg Saunier (Deerhoof): "Mulume/Change" was straight from one of our 2011 live shows, at the Barbican in London. "Bombo/Sifflets" starts with a collage of recordings made before we ever met as a band. This was the 'remote' part. The introduction to this track uses rough recorded ideas emailed between Buenos Aires (Juana), Kinshasa (Kasai Allstars and Vincent), and Albuquerque (John). It segues into another live recording, from a world music festival in Switzerland. It was such a revelation for me to mix the live tracks. Onstage with 19 players it was incredibly difficult to hear what was going on. It was a volume war at every show! When I mixed these tracks, I marvelled at the beauty of every musician's performance, which I could hear clearly for the first time. It made me miss everyone all over again. I would recommend to anyone the process of making a leaderless, anarchic musical group with vast language and cultural differences. Marc was the originator of the idea and for that he has my thanks forever. The process of rehearsing and performing was indescribably tense and grueling, but also democratic by necessity. I don't mean voting, there was no voting. There was no system or structure of any kind. I mean a group of people making up and negotiating their own rules as they went along.


Juana Molina: We did work remotely a lot, before the tour. It was easier because we were composing on each other's ideas, for instance John sent a few bars, (beautiful bars) with a guitar part and then I would record something on top or twist the part into something else and make something new with his idea. "Bombo & Sifflets" was exactly the other way round, John played on a demo track I sent, and Vincent then got Kasai Allstars to play on top of it all. In other instances, Kasai Allstars sent something and I wrote a melody on top (usually getting the beginning of the bar at the wrong time, hence the reason for the name of the album!).

Mopero Mupemba (Kasai Allstars): We had no problem working remotely during the preliminary composing, and even then, we did play 'in the room' among ourselves either by starting a track and sending the recording to the other participants, or by playing on top of demos they sent us. But some tracks on the album actually were live jams, we created them collectively created by improvising in a very relaxed and open-minded way, with only four or five musicians, while we were up in the mountains, in the French Alps, where we took a few days between shows to write and record some more.

John Dieterich: "Mulume/Change" is just a loose band playing loosely hahaha! I don't know that there's another way to achieve that feeling. 'Mulume' started out as a guitar idea that I had lying around and thought might be useful in this context. I sent it to Juana, and within 24 hours she had created a loop from one of the sections and written vocal parts. That version was then utterly transformed by the group into what you hear on the record, with everyone coming up with all kinds of ideas for vocal and instrumental parts. It strikes me now as all these different takes on the same idea from different backgrounds and perspectives and all happening at the same time or in quick succession. In a way, most of what the live group did was like that. "Bombo & Sifflets" started as an attempt to combine this incredible group whistling recording of Kasai that Vincent had made with a demo of Juana's that I had written a very dissonant guitar part to. On the record, the first section of the track is a collage made by Marc using Juana's and Kasai Allstars’ respective demos, and segues into the live version of the band playing, mixed by Greg. Never in my wildest imagination did I think this would end up being something that the group would play as it was the most out, the most dissonant, the most sketchy thing we worked on in advance — but it ended up working perfectly as the introduction music for the live band. It really felt monumentally powerful and scary at times.

Congotronics International share two new tracks from debut LP ten years in the making