“Konono No.1’s proud and brave leader Augustin Mawangu Mingiedi has passed away yesterday,” the band said. “He’d been ill for several months. We are devastated.
“But Konono N°1 are indestructible, and we’ve been continuing to work and perform. After [founder] Mingiedi [Mawangu] and Augustin, the torch of lead likembé player has now been passed to the 3rd generation, to Augustin’s son Makonda, who is fronting the band with original singer Menga Waku.”
Mingiedi’s father, Mawangu, founded Konono N°1 in the Seventies, recruiting an array of Congolese musicians to perform an electric version of the region’s traditional dance music. Mawangu used an amplified version of the likembé (or, “thumb piano”) which he invented using spare parts. The instrument injected Konono N°1’s take on Zombo ritual music with elements of trance, psychedelia and experimental rock. For decades, the group toured villages in Africa and finally began to travel abroad in the early 2000s, releasing their official debut album, Congotronics, in 2004.
The album’s success led to a collaboration with Björk on the Volta track, “Earth Intruders,” while the Icelandic singer also tapped them to open for her on tour. In 2008, Konono N°1 earned a Grammy nomination for Best Traditional World Music Album for Live At the Couleur Café, while in 2010 they won the Grammy for Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals for their rendition of John Lennon’s “Imagine” with Herbie Hancock.
Mawangu stopped touring in 2009 and began to hand over control of Konono N°1 to Mingiedi, who officially became bandleader after his father’s death in 2015. As the group’s leader, he continued to push Konono N°1 in new sonic directions, partnering with Portuguese dance producer Batida for a 2016 LP, Konono N°1 Meets Batida.
In a statement shared with NPR, Belgian producer Vincent Kenis, who produced and released Contogronics on his Crammed Discs label, said, “On the footsteps of his father the great Mingiedi, founder of Konono No. 1, likembé virtuoso Augustin Mawangu acted as a pioneer by enhancing the instrument’s expressivity with electronic devices and new techniques, with stunning effects. His brilliant and bold playing, his stage presence, his humor and high spirits graced many projects… It’s a great honor for me to have worked with him.”
In a 2015 interview with the BBC, Mingiedi spoke about Mawangu’s revolutionary electric likembé and the joy of continuing the band his father founded. “I can say my father was a visionary man because at that moment we didn’t know he was creating something interesting, something that would bring us happiness and fortune in life. Today, thanks to his instrument, I am an international artist, but I had never, never, thought I would be an artist today.”