KONGOS Konquer Kontinents!

It is always an absolute pleasure, in fact a treasured moment of measured satisfaction to watch a band emerge from this desert land and greet their rising star ascending to meet them. Kongos have made a name for themselves in this town through a lot of hard work and perseverance, by playing endless shows and always pushing themselves to top their last gig, up the ante on the next song they write and extend their limits beyond where they were, only a month ago, or a year ago or making sure that their sophomore release far surpasses the brilliance of their first. It’s clear to anyone that sees or hears Kongos of late, that what they have going for them is a tremendous work ethic and an attention to what their fans love, want and need from them—which is to say great songs and great shows. It appears that now Kongos have come in to their own and while they may not have radio hits here, yet, they are burning up the radio charts in their native South Africa and for that we should celebrate their well earned success. Kongos may just have to conquer each continent one at time and it is certain that when each continent is ready for their unusual, engaging, enlightening sounds, they will welcome Kongos with open arms.

Over the last year or so, Kongos have released five songs, five amazing singles, each one seeming to supercede the previous song, each one impressing upon the listener that since their first eponymous album from 2007, these four brothers have developed well beyond their debut and dug deep down to their roots, which is to say their Afro-European upbringing and the influence of their legendary father John Kongos. One at a time they released these songs, for free on the internet through their website and with each release it was clear that they were leading up to something great. The culmination of the five songs will lead to a full length album, adding seven more songs to the EP they give away free online and on CD at their shows. It’s a cool move to give away five of your best songs for free, but one suspects that the seven we haven’t collected yet, some heard at live shows, may be even better than those and that is what will make it one of the most anticipated releases of the upcoming year. If 2011 was the year they launched their plan to take over the world, it seems 2012 will be the year they actually execute it. Kongos are primed to explode.

The brothers Kongos are the four sons of John Kongos, international hitmaker from the 1970s and a legend in South Africa and the UK, it is as if, as Beef Vegan co-host of The Morning Infidelity on KWSS 106.7 said, “John Kongos banged out a band,” one of the brothers’ favorite, albeit ribald, descriptions of their close ages. During the time they have spent in Phoenix, Arizona, after the years of coming to age in South Africa and the UK, have allowed them to flourish as a band and literally spread their wings. On the day after their triumphant last show in Phoenix for the year at the Crescent Ballroom, I sat down with them over lunch and some pints to discuss their upcoming tour of South Africa, their chart topping success there, the new album and the songs they’ve already released.

“It’s going to be bigger than anything we’ve ever done,” Jesse Kongos said of the tour.
“We thought we were going to play six to eight shows, and it’s turned into 15 or 16 and a live performance on TV,” Dylan Kongos added.
“We’re playing two events in Pretoria,” Danny Kongos added. “One in a club and one at a festival.”
The biggest festival they will play will be in front of over an estimated 25,000 people, which is a daunting task to say the least and something the brothers are working hard to prepare for earnestly.
“Starting now, it’s drilling the sets,” Johnny Kongos said. “Obviously the playing can always improve, but it’s also about the moments between songs.” They talked about performers who made the between song repartee look easy, citing Chris Martin, Jackson Browne and Paul Simon, how much they admired their natural showmanship and quality live performances. “They’re just natural, they’re completely over the fame,” Dylan said. “It’s that mix of confidence and humility,” Danny added summing it up perfectly.

The tour will last for over six weeks starting on December 9th at Town Hall in Johannesburg and last well into February, with more dates being recently added, probably due for the demand of their recent and overwhelming chart success. There hitmaking abilities were already established when the released their first album and claimed a Top 40 hit with “In The Music” where it claimed the #9 spot on TUKS-FM. This time around, though, “I’m Only Joking” is sitting comfortably in the top spot on TUKS-FM Top 30, the biggest Rock chart in South Africa, it’s also been No. 1 on the SA Top 10 and No. 1 on the Top 20 Most Wanted. With that in mind, “Come With Me Now” is the second single to begin its rise in the charts, certainly it’s only a matter of time over the next year that Kongos are looking at having five or more top ten hits in their homeland. “We were totally taken aback by that,” Dylan said. “We went from having three or four signups a day on our website to suddenly getting 150-200!”

The album, Lunatic, was released on December 12th in South Africa featuring all five singles released so far and seven additional tracks, including recent live favorites like “Sex On The Radio.” While the Kongos have their own Tokoloshe Records, “We did just sign a deal with a label called Just Music which is distributed by Universal in South Africa,” Jesse said. They recently completed mixing and mastering the album and sent the artwork off. When and how the album will be release stateside is still being debated, but the brothers seem keen on traveling around the country a bit. “We would really like to play shows and tour across the U.S.,” Dylan said. If the songs they’ve released so far are any indication, Kongos should have no problem taking the country by storm as they have in their homeland.

“I’m Only Joking” is probably the best use and example of Burundi Drums put to disc in the last decade and if the witticisms and snarl in the lyrics aren’t your cup of tea, you can’t deny the mix of African influences fully coalesced into pure rock delivery of anthemic proportions. “We specifically don’t talk about ‘I’m Only Joking’,” Jesse said. “That way everyone has their own interpretation of what it’s about.” Whatever it’s about it may be well one of the best songs released in this town in a long time. “Come With Me Now,” is the hit walking in its wake and it’s another raving number of foot stomping proportions. “We didn’t want to play Top 40 music unless we were making it,” Johnny laughed. “It’s really influenced by this slow downed house riff.” “I did a bass riff that became a guitar riff,” Danny added. “It’s A Good Life” was my own introduction to Kongos and I was sold by the rhythms, the accordion and the vocal delivery, it’s a perfect pop song in every way, the kind that makes you a smile as the sun shines from behind the clouds. “It’s pretty self-explanatory, it’s very influenced by ‘Instant Karma’,” Jesse said. “I was thinking about the frustration of modern life , you find yourself screaming at inanimate objects.” “It’s about modern problems,” Danny added. “They’re not really problems at all.” “The original lyric was ‘It’s A Good Life, For A Dog,’” Jesse noted.

“This Time I Won’t Forget” is possibly the only sentimental song in the bunch and once more it evokes unique African and European influences not usually found in the music of this town. It’s a beautiful song and a touching tale. “It’s all pictures from our scrapbooks,” Johnny said. “It’s about those people in your life, waiting until too late to remember how important they are to your life.” The final track previewed from Lunatic is “Hey I Don’t Know (Why Don’t You Tell Me)” which is another rocking hit, but also one of the more political numbers in Kongos catalog. “I was reading about history and humanity,” Jesse said. “I was thinking about the difference between what the people feel and what the king feels. It’s about the parallels in the conscience of an individual and an empire.” The song is a blazing, amazing number that on the five song CD concludes the number with a rousing hurrah.

Just because you may have all five of those songs (or you’re downloading them tomorrow) doesn’t mean you can skip out on the album when it does see release here. “We’ve done remixes for the album of some of those songs,” Dylan smiled. “We can’t ever release anything without remixing it one to three times.” Great things are already happening for Kongos and it seems that great things are in store for these four brothers who seem happy to call Phoenix home. Though with radio success, album releases, a six week tour and even a Cosmopolitan interview, how long will they stay? Either way we should feel blessed to have them here, I have a feeling the heights they will achieve have only begun to be conceived. Clearly the Kongos are going places and it can’t just be South Africa that gets their sound, gets their rhythms, this band just might capture the world while they are at it, and deservedly so.

(NOTE: An edited version of this appeared in the December 20011 issue of JAVA Magazine)

KONGOS Official Website 

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