“If you give to us, we will give to you. If you give us more, we will give you more. You’ll see.”
In any other context, hearing those words from a man wearing white coveralls and a red balaclava would feel downright threatening. But as the source was Xavier Thomas, the musician and mastermind known as Débruit who leads the Congolese ensemble KOKOKO!, the comment was, instead, imploring. Directed at the dozens of people packed into Holocene’s cozy performance space on May 3, it was a call for energy. Feed the two men onstage with your movement and excitement and they’ll return it tenfold.
The crowd didn’t need much prompting. Who could stay silent or sit still in response to the rhythm heavy fusillades that Thomas and his musical partner Makara Bianko (for some unknown reason, the band’s usual five-piece lineup has been reduced to a duo) were spraying around the room?
Thomas set the course for each track with a bank of electronic pads and widgets. Bianko slipped between and around the programmed beats and squelching melodies with polyrhythms beat out on a small batch of traditional drums and percussion instruments built from reused plastic and glass bottles. Through it all, the two chanted and sang lyrics that bounced from spirit-raising messages to allegorical rage at the political situation in their native country.
The symbiotic relationship of audience and performers set forth a constant whirl of sweaty motion. It became a joyous call-and-response of unbridled elation and sociopolitical fervor that, in the right context, felt like it had the power to topple regimes. Or at the very least help people more easily survive with the rest of the work week and the unforgiving global news cycle.