Jupiter & Okwess capture the musical anarchy of their performances on Na Kozonga | Music Review | Chicago Reader

Jupiter & Okwess capture the musical anarchy of their performances on Na Kozonga 

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click to enlarge Jupiter Bokondji (foreground, with fedora) and his band Okwess.

Jupiter Bokondji (foreground, with fedora) and his band Okwess.

Youri Lenquette

My first impression of Jupiter Bokondji and his band Okwess was that their sound resembled Fishbone filtered through traditional African music. That’s not to say that the players in this Congolese ensemble actually take any cues from the legendary ska-punk band—rather, both groups combine African rhythms with rock, funk, and the occasional jazzy flourish. Jupiter & Okwess have an insane stage presence, and I was glad to catch their riotous performance at Millennium Park in 2019. The band’s new album, Na Kazonga (Everloving), does a good job capturing their musical anarchy. Several songs have multiple textures happening at once; guitar parts slot into other guitar parts while the band’s five members deliver masses of vocals, sometimes in unison and sometimes in individual parts that intertwine to great effect. On Na Kazonga, everything is mixed at a ferocious volume, but it doesn’t sound overproduced—excess is clearly part of the plan. Jupiter & Okwess attack every song with an aggressive rock intensity, so that even softer numbers such as “Bolenge Seben” feel ready to pounce. The horn section from the Preservation Hall Jazz Band seamlessly fits into the wall of sound on “Abalegele Gale,” finding a middle ground between Congolese rhythms and New Orleans second line (though I think it would also be thrilling to hear Jupiter & Okwess’s music adapted for a NOLA brass band!). Elsewhere on Na Kazonga, Los Angeles vocalist Maiya Sykes adds churchy vocals to the male-dominated chorus of voices, and Brazilian hip-hop artist Marcelo D2 provides a full-on rap. The album’s off-the-chain mixture is nuts in the best way, and its complexities come straight from the heart. Purists will disagree, but Jupiter & Okwess might be one of the planet’s best rock bands going.   v

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