Congo’s KOKOKO! Makes Joyful Dance Music From Instruments Made Of Junk

KOKOKO!, a band from the Democratic Republic of Congo, performs at an NPR Tiny Desk Concert that will be posted at a future date. Bob Boilen/NPR hide captiontoggle caption Bob Boilen/NPR

KOKOKO!, a band from the Democratic Republic of Congo, performs at an NPR Tiny Desk Concert that will be posted at a future date.Bob Boilen/NPR

Before the members of Congolese music collective KOKOKO! take the stage at Washington, D.C.’s Rock & Roll Hotel, they slip into bright yellow jumpsuits.

The fashion choice, they explain, has utilitarian roots: That’s what a lot of workers in Congo wear. Their instruments have a similar no-frills style — they were crafted from kitchen pots, tin cans and air-conditioner parts.

“It started out because commercial instruments in Kinshasa [where they live] are too expensive to buy and also too expensive to rent. So it started with the necessity of creating your own guitar or your own bass,” says member Boms Bomolo.

The group’s name reflects their humble origins. “KOKOKO” means “knock knock knock” in the local language, Lingala. When they were getting started in 2016, they picked it as a call-out for somebody to open the door and let their music in.

And the door is definitely open for their joyful dance music, with energetic percussion, electronic beats and call and response vocals between the band members and audience. Even if the crowd at Rock & Roll Hotel doesn’t understand the Kikongo, Lingala, French and Swahili lyrics, they eagerly repeat the words back to singer Love Lokombe.

In their first two years, KOKOKO! toured the world and released a slew of singles and an EP. They dropped their debut LP, Fongola, in July to rave reviews. Earlier this year, their performance at South by Southwest music festival in Austin, Texas, caught the attention of NPR’s All Songs Considered. Now wrapping up their first big tour across North America, they stopped by NPR’s Tiny Desk on October 1.

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