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Posted Sep 23, 2014 at 9:00 am
Kongos turn Memorial Union into worldly dance party
The South African group used a variety of obscure instruments in tightly-packed set

As alternative rock band Kongos took Memorial Union’s Shannon Hall stage Sunday night, the music began cranking itself out rapid fire, bringing a crowd of all ages to their feet and ensuring that not a minute of the band’s hour-and-30 minute set went to waste.

Kongos, a South-African group composed of four brothers — Daniel, Dylan, Jesse and Johnny — is just beginning to extend its music past the borders of South Africa. The band has now become a U.S. and international name, with heavy radio airplay and TV features of the hit, “Come With Me Now.”

The brothers began their live set with single “I’m Only Joking,” off their 2012 debut album, Lunatic. The single, which has topped various South African music charts, is only beginning its climb to popularity in the United States. Nevertheless, the song’s catchy melody, combined with the band’s radiating enthusiasm and energy, had nearly the entire audience dancing and singing along by the time the opening number came to a close.

Without so much as a breath of air, the brothers launched into their next few songs, which encompassed an upbeat, dance-y feel, while maintaining a folksy, organic, instrument-based undertone — a bizarre mix that opposes easy categorization.

The band played an array of both traditional and obscure instruments with great technique, highlighting their unusual genre hybridization. The incorporation of instruments like keyboards, cello and Dobro resonator guitars truly shined light on the band’s overarching talent and versatility.

Not only did the use of many instruments exemplify the band’s ability and adaptability, but it allowed the performers to speak to a wider audience. The instrumental diversity added a dimension of worldliness and integration, using music to lessen the gap between cultures, genres and generations.

Kongos used music to bridge gaps in more ways than one. The band brought its tour manager to the stage to rap, covering The Beatles’ timeless classic, “Come Together.” The band also bridged the gap between artist and fan, teaching members of the crowd the words to new songs and using comedic lines to integrate the audience into a vital facet of the show.

With a unique sound and vibrancy that turned the concert hall into a dance fest, Kongos used their musicality to not only bring together a room full of people from completely diverse backgrounds and demographics, but also appeal to all of them through an experimental and out-of-the-box style. It’s a style that is singularly worldly. For a while Sunday night, Kongos fans felt like they were anywhere but Madison. That’s a testament to the power of music.