For most of his life Sorie Kondi has been playing the kondi thumb piano of Sierra Leone. By now he’s as good as you’d expect a serious professional musician to be after decades of work, so it’s intriguing to notice how much he likes to tuck his instrument back in the song, how he likes to pump up the volume of the automated clap-beat and the singing. The most delicate moments in the first two tracks are pierced by that mechanical clap-clap. His voice rides over the kondi mizzle, then a harder-pitched chorus of women stabs through him. So the music is a story of intricate, detailed things being stabbed by sharper, less sensitive things. The man used to play for money on the street and those attention-getting moments were possibly a survival mechanism, just as the shattering fuzzy volume of the style that has been promoted with the name “Congotronics” was a matter of survival in urban Central Africa. You need people to hear you over city noise. One crucial difference—the Sierra Leonean doesn’t wire up his thumb piano and blast it. He ‘s patient. He takes his time. “Work hard, work hard,” he sings praisefully to the APC government for deciding to complete the hydroelectric dam that had been lingering unfinished for more than twenty years in a nation where most of the electricity comes from personal generators. Electricity is a treasure. He brings in the autotune and his voice segues into wavy glass.
// Notes from the Road
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