Friday, 5 April 2019

Tonga Boys - Vindodo

First published in Songlines Magazine issue 147, May 2019.

Tonga Boys
1000HZ (42 mins)

The first thing you’ll notice about this album is its packaging – no jewel case here! Instead, the CD comes in a sealed plastic pouch not unlike a tobacco packet, with some gnarly graphic design that would look perfectly at home in the cassette stalls in Mzuzu, Malawi.

Tonga Boys are indeed a group from Malawi, and Vindodo was made in collaboration with a trio of Polish producers. Their sound is quite akin to Congotronics: there’s a proper DIY atmosphere, all slightly distorted drums, percussion and looping, call-and-response vocals. The production is subtle – a synth drum here and there, the occasional drone, some echo. It’s tasteful and usually effective, but I feel like the album wouldn’t suffer incredibly without it.

The DIY-iness goes deep; these are obviously home recordings. That roughness can be aesthetically appropriate, but there’s a risk of it just sounding bad. Luckily, Vindodo manages to stay on the right side of that line…mostly. The ear gets used to it, and I warmed to the album the more I listened.

Everything about this album is rough and ready, but if you’re prepared and in the mood for a repetitive and darkly hypnotic listen, this is an interesting one to try.