Released on Hive Mind / Sing-A-Song Fighter
I can’t recall the last record I heard that was this easy to love. Congolese guitarist Kahanga “Vumbi” Dekula has had over four decades’ experience playing in collaborative contexts before finally recording this: his first ever solo album, which revels in the spaciousness of shedding an accompanying band while also thickening his presentation with gentle overdubs and, occasionally, the humble rhythm box of producer Karl-Jonas Winqvist. The whole thing feels effortless, driven by simple chord progressions that attain a sort of freewheeling bliss. Yet of course, this idling energy is afforded through years of gathering intimacy between Vumbi and his instrument, which allows him to drench the record with the most beautiful here-then-gone harmonic inflections and intricacies of technique. At literally any point throughout Congo Guitar, it’s possible to lift out of the general reverie and instead zero in on the charming minutiae: the way Vumbi half-catches a fret to create little staccato pinches among the mercurial flurry, or how the guitar overdubs are woven into a lattice, each nestling into the other’s dropped beats and Rumba syncopations. Vumbi delivers the most marvellous details without fuss.
On a couple of tracks, the record’s otherwise rosy hue is delicately offset. Opener “Afro Blues” operates on a descendent minor-key motif, albeit one that moves with a vibrant flutter and skip. The guitar rests upon a bed of traffic and voices as if recorded out on the street; at one point a singing voice enters from nowhere, but its appearance is so brief that it’s unclear whether this is a guest vocalist mindfully singing along, or merely a passing pedestrian lost in their own, serendipitously congruent song – a translucent ambiguity shared by the faint traces of other instruments throughout the record, such as the piano trickling down the edges of "Zuku" or the lazy wordless harmonies on "Maamajacy". And right at the close, a vigorous sentiment: the album’s final track is called “UN Forces (Get Out of the Democratic Republic of Congo)”, presumably in reference to the 17,000 UN personnel still stationed there as part of the MONUSCO, which is the latest of several UN missions in the DRC since 1960. Here, Vumbi’s trademark guitar is joined by the banjo, whose twanging protrusions wryly emulate the presence of an outsider. As with everything on Congo Guitar, the demand of the track's title is presented with mesmeric assuredness of something already true.