It's A Bomb

10/11/2023Congolese Singer Bony Bikaye Joins Up W/ French Trio TONN3RR3 For A Hyper-Ambient, Afro-Disco Full-Length

Isn't it strange how sometimes the points just connect? Just this week, we published a new annual "Best of Globalwize" selection from 2017, which happened to include a track from the highly original and very much progressive sounding 1983-released (and 2017-reissued) collaborative album "Noir et Blanc" by Congolese singer Bony Bikaye, alongside French composer Hector Zazou and electronic music experimentalists CY1. Now, some 40 years since his milestone Crammed Discs debut, Bikaye makes a surprise return on Born Bad Records, "stepping out of musical retirement, to craft another futuristic Congolese landscape with Parision electronic production trio TONN3RR3." 

"It's a Bomb", a phrase any frequent traveller would be wise not to say out loud, is described as a "hybrid borderless strain of mutant Afro-disco and electronic experimentalism," where elements of Congolese rumba and "mythological storytelling" are woven into a conceptual, upbeat-ambient tapestry based on "the electronic jungle". The project came to fruition during a university project in Paris, which initially brought Bony Bikaye and TONN3RR3's Guillaume Gilles together. As Bony put his vocal prowess on display, telling ancestral stories from his north Congolese homeland in his native tongue Lingala, "verbalising rhythms he'd dreamt up," Gilles saw the potential to join forces and elaborate.

Bringing percussionist Gaëlle Salomon (Femi Kuti) and synth player Guillaume Loizillon (musicologist and professor who had originally invited Bony on campus) into the fold, Bony Bikaye and TONN3RR3 decided to relocate to a Paris studio and work their hybrid magic. Taking an approach pioneered by the likes of Brian Eno, CAN and David Byrne, TONN3RR3 began to blend their own original compositions with Bony's ideas rooted in traditional Congolese rhythms and folklore to see where the road would lead, at times sticking to the playbook, at times diverging into collective improvisations. “The important thing for us was to give a common meaning to these hybridisations. We didn’t want to make African music, nor European music rather just music which aimed to bring disparate cultural fragments together, and to resonate," Guillaume Gilles points out.

As to be expected, Bony's lyrical versatility is front and center on this album, though never overpowering. Bringing his brand of contemporary 'griotism' to the stage, he takes on multiple identities, presenting "a family of voices, [taking] the role of different characters in the family, changing tone and lyric depending on who he is, whether it be his auntie, his father or whoever in the family tree." Paired with the steadily shapeshifting, atmospheric soundscapes of TONN3RR3, his voice is no doubt the main attraction, each tale's protagonist, guiding listeners through the sonic undergrowth with playful ease.

Ranging from solemn and ceremonious to spirited and soaring, this capricious ten track outing is thoroughly engaging and brimming with ideas. While the opener brought the subterranean explorations of Massive Attack to mind, the closer is no doubt closer to William Onyeabor, which speaks volumes and might give you a better idea of this album's broad scope. Despite the vast influences and multicoloured hues, however, "It's a Bomb" is surprisingly coherent and universal in sound – possibly due to its underlying concept to start with – tying it all together to make for a fulminant mix and sublime listening experience.

AUTHOR: Lev Nordstrom