Rey Sapienz collaborates with Papalas Palata and Fresh Dougis culminating in the debut album Na Zala Zala for their collective The Congo Techno Ensemble.
The trio’s aim was to use their artistry to express the past, present and future of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, drawing on Sapienz’s experiences of the Second Congo War. Rey Sapienz’s work has been described as “a heady cocktail of stylistic futurism and harsh reality”, with Na Zala Zala taking this to new dimensions of poignancy and creativity.
The theme of collaboration and multi-faceted artistry blatantly runs through every track on this release. The result is an amalgamation of futuristic, techno and dancehall-infused sounds from a combination of textural and pitch variation. The surreal opening of Dancehall Pigme combines dry, raw building blocks of sound with a powerful sense of forward motion and tension.
Through building up the layers of the texture, the Lingala lyrics sit on top to paint a poignant picture through powerful, open-ended statements such as “I’m here trying to survive… What do I do to get what I deserve”. Although the lyricism becomes more hopeful at times (“I’m sick, I want to heal”, Posa Na Bika), there is a prevalent eeriness haunting the production of tracks such as Zuwa Ba Risk. This morphs into a harsher, more thrilling soundscape on Santonge, creating an intense dysphoria that hauntingly manoeuvres between the sparsest and densest textures on the album in a very short space of time.
It is clear that a lot of craft has gone into this release, particularly into the curation of instability. Eza Makambo offers a jittery, hypnotic collage of cross-rhythms and loops, while Esala Rien mixes contrasting dry and reverberant sounds and frequently jumps from growling lows to falsetto highs in the vocal. This is further enhanced by the thread of futuristic, alien sound worlds, which combined with the atemporality of 96 becomes utterly transcendent and surreal. Moreover, the use of traditional forms on Na Zala Zala creates a vital sense of groundedness that keeps this release human and comprehensive.
This collaborative release exemplifies how taking numerous contrasting themes and sounds can create something incredibly artistically powerful. When vocals, production and tradition combine, the blurring of these distinctions allows many of these tracks to transcend boundaries of musical form and understanding. Moreover, as the final track, Minzoto, moves into a dreamy realm of hope, this gives us an opportunity to reflect on the journey of Na Zala Zala and the new worlds we have visited.