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Music’s all in the family for Kongos
By Tom Lanham

The genesis of South African-bred family band Kongos is a case of both nature and nurture.
Drummer-vocalist Jesse Kongos, 30 — and his brothers Daniel, 25, guitar; Dylan, 28, bass and vocals; and Johnny, 32, accordion and keyboards — have music in their blood.

Their father, John Kongos, who scored 1970s hits such as “Tokoloshe Man” and “He’s Gonna Step On You Again” had a home studio armed with an arsenal of instruments for his kids to explore.

“Which for us was normal back then,” says Jesse Kongos, who formed the group with his brothers seven years ago. “But when you look back on it, you realize what a lucky and amazing childhood it was.”

Yet the Kongos siblings — who play Live 105’s BFD in Mountain View today, backing their U.S. debut, “Lunatic,” and tribal-stomping singles such as “I’m Only Joking” and “Come With Me Now” — weren’t handed instruments at birth.

But Jesse Kongos says his dad put speakers in their stroller: “So right when we were infants, he started playing music for us, like Bach cello suites. And since then, there have been all these studies about listening to classical music as a child to develop new brain pathways.”

John Kongos was born in Johannesburg, but he moved to London to seek his songwriting fortune, and that’s where his sons were born. Post-solo career, he gradually switched to production and engineering at his basement headquarters, which was frequented by members of Elton John’s and Cat Stevens’ bands, and even Def Leppard when the band needed help programming its Fairlight synthesizer for 1983’s “Pyromania.”

“I still have memories of just being around when my dad had sessions going on and musicians coming in and out,” Jesse Kongos says. “So being in that environment just felt natural to us from a very young age.”

The Kongos clan moved back to South Africa, where the kids — true to their heritage — attended a Greek school and became familiar with that culture’s turbulent rhythms.

Jesse Kongos went on to study jazz drumming in college, plus African and Middle Eastern styles, and his powerhouse percussion is the outfit’s heartbeat.

Naturally, he saw forming a group as logical. He says, “Danny was only 13 when we first started doing gigs. But we all agreed simultaneously that this could be more fun than getting a job or following the traditional path.”

The siblings now reside in Phoenix, their mother’s hometown, where they constructed their own sonic retreat.

“It’s our studio — we all use it and have access to it,” Jesse Kongos says. “But our dad comes down there every so often and gives us his feedback and opinions. He’s kind of been our general guiding force.”