Take it from them. KONGOS are fabulously talented, transcendently charismatic, and absolutely buzzing with musical genius.
With an uncanny ability to foresee trends and cultural upheavals, the band effortlessly composes inspiring soundtracks to the undulations of everyday life. Listen. KONGOS want you to be better than you are. You’re welcome.
Relax. KONGOS are nothing like that—although the band does parody such self-reverential nonsense in its video for the single, “Take It From Me,” from the group’s new album, Egomaniac [Epic Records].
In actual fact, KONGOS—four brothers whose father is ’70s British/South African hitmaker John Kongos—are far more obsessed with refining and evolving their craft, than strutting their vanity.
Johnny (accordion, keyboards, vocals), Jesse (drums, vocals), Dylan (bass, vocals), and Danny (guitar, vocals) are all disciplined, hard-working musicians who have taken the concept of “family business” quite literally.
Every element of KONGOS’ music is generated by the quartet—from the songwriting, arranging, engineering, production, mixing, and mastering of the albums in their own Tokoloshe Studios in Phoenix, Arizona, to conceptualizing and directing the videos.
The brothers obviously know what they’re doing.
In 2014, the hit “Come With Me Now” from KONGOS’ major-label debut, Lunatic, was ricocheting all over the world: More than 2 million sales, reaching #1 on Alternative Radio charts, and scoring more than 125 song placements in media such as The Expendables 3, American Idol, NBC Sports, Playstation 4, ESPN, MTV Movie Awards, WWE, and ads for Samsung Galaxy and Dodge Ram trucks.
“Our dad had a pretty cutting-edge studio in London for 20 years, and, as we were growing up, he’d teach us the basic principles of recording,” says Jesse about the band’s confident maturity in the studio. “When we started KONGOS, we carried on his curiosity about gear and techniques. We tend to demo our own songs individually. Then, we’ll get together to play the demos for each other, and discuss which songs should be on the album. At that point, we all dive in and collaborate as a group.”
The bounty of diverse, yet shared ideas makes for distinctive songs with deep beats, staccato accordion licks, rhythmic vocal melodies, and sharp, stabbing guitars. But in order to fully construct KONGOS’ unique sound, the brothers had to borrow another essential element from their father.
“Our dad took certain African rhythms and mixed them with, at the time, glam rock,” explains Danny, “and, similarly, KONGOS takes South African township music and blends it with all of our musical influences, from Delta blues, rock, classical, and jazz. A lot of South African music flips the beat, and I think that’s what makes those grooves so immediate. They’ll do a fill or a riff, and you almost don’t know where beat one of a measure is going to land. But when everything comes down together on an accent, it’s really exciting.”
Egomaniac is the third studio release from the band—following 2007’s KONGOS and 2012’s Lunatic—and the new album’s theme was forged by experiencing, both internally and externally, the rampant self-absorption of those in the public eye, particularly the entertainment business, as well as that of everyday people who celebrate themselves on social media.
“Everyone can be self-centered—it’s universal,” says Dylan. “We recognize that in ourselves—which is what inspired us to write about it—so the album is a bit of a commentary on our own personal manifestations of egomania as well as where society is today. It seems everyone needs to be a star—a “brand”—and celebrate their own importance.”
Of course, playing with three other siblings in a band makes it tremendously difficult for any one of the Kongos brothers to fall victim to arrogance and egotism. Family tends to provide brutal checks and balances for such behavior. And, here again, it’s their father who may have provided yet another critical link to KONGOS’ musical mission.
“He started us all out playing classical piano,” adds Johnny. “And although we moved on to other instruments and styles, I like to think the classical discipline of selflessly applying oneself in service to the music continues to drive everything we do.”