There comes a moment in a foreign city, as you head away from the touristy centre, that the sense of the alien becomes increasingly vivid. As you venture into the residential areas where ‘normal’ people live and work, you become more and more aware of all that is different to the place you call home. You know that the basics of the city are the same as one you know well, but that just shines a light on all that is unfamiliar.
Listening to Denis Mpunga and Paul K.’s ‘Criola’, a collection of rare tracks from the duo recently reissued as an EP on Music From Memory, has that same gradually encroaching sense of the exotic. The tracks, recorded in the 80s, mix elements of traditional African music with experimental electronics. The bricks and mortar of its construction aren’t in themselves that unusual, but their cumulative effect truly is.
The Belgian/Congolese duo crafted these songs while ‘world-music’ was rising in popularity in the US and Europe. The nine tracks of Criola though, reveal an ambition to avoid falling into the process of cultural ghettoisation the world-music boom presented. From the layered synthesizer and drum machine rhythms of opener ‘Intermezzo 3’ onward, it’s clear that although Mpunga and Paul K. (real name Patrick Stas) were happy to reflect their African heritage, they were not willing to be defined by it.
Throughout, timeless musical traditions are mixed with the synthetic, Balafons and Zither against TR 808s and MS-20s. On ‘Dou Niya‘ this sees a simple drum machine beat played against funky guitar strums and a bouncing vocal line. On the EP’s title track, traditional and electronic percussion combine to create fluid polyrhythms under Mpunga’s longing, crooning vocal. Some tracks, such as ‘What‘ or ‘!!! KWE‘, are built purely from acoustic instruments – voice, percussion and guitar. Others, such as ‘Intermezzo 2‘ are pretty much completely electronic – trippy synth jams keeping enough melodicism to avoid falling into the needlessly abstract.
Criola is pop music in the purest sense, proven song forms forged in communities through the centuries warped to reflect the changing world around them. The sound of cultures moving around different localities, of cities gloriously losing any sense of over familiarity.
Criola is out now, order a copy from Music From Memory.
A1. Intermezzo III
A3. Intermezzo II
A4. !!! KWE
B1. Dou Niya
B2. Intermezzo I
Discover more about Music From Memory on Inverted Audio.