Altruism aside, musical charity records are usually giant creative busts. “We Are the World” may have helped starving Africans, but I’d rather listen to 30 Rock‘s “Kidney Now!” Proving these efforts can actually sound good, Gorillaz/Blur head Damon Albarn organized DRC Music, comprised of himself, hip-hop producer extraordinaire Dan the Automator, and over 50 local musicians out of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Don’t let the names attached fool you, though; this is a mere minor musical distraction.
The record’s musical aesthetic is primarily African in nature, demonstrated superbly in tracks like “Lingala” and “Lourds”. The former is African music that’s minimalist and heartfelt courtesy of Bokatola System and Evala Lingoto, with a decidedly European disco beat that isn’t overwhelming or too distracting. The latter is more of the same, but with the electronics toned down to a slight blip and the African influence turned up to its most lethal efficiency, thanks to Yende Bongongo’s smooth stylings. Even still, the music can get fairly homogeneous at times, sounding as if tracks pour into each other without cultivating their own unique presence. In the end, that’s all to do with the myopic views of the source culture by the record’s super producers.
It’s clear that while they did their best to make an album that puts DRC music on the forefront, hardened fans of Albarn and Automator are going to be thoroughly disappointed in most of the LP. Tracks like “Hallo”, a Gorillaz-esque number with a lite DRC sheen to it, and “If You Wish to Stay Awake”, a fascinating addition that sees a unique battle for control between both sounds, will offer something more familiar to these fans, but for all the wrong reasons. They’re too Western, full of clichéd, glitchy bleeps and bloops, and utilize African music not as inspiration but instead as an ill-informed stereotype.
DRC Music may save the world after all, but they haven’t done enough to make this a truly lasting effort.
Essential Tracks: “Lingala” and “Lourds”