R.I.P. Mawangu Mingiedi

Mawangu Mingiedi, founder of the Congolese group Konono Nº1, has died. The Konono Nº1 Facebook page made the announcement yesterday. Mingiedi died on Wednesday night in Kinshasa, and no cause of death has been reported. He was 85.

Mingiedi founded Konono Nº1 sometime in the ’60s, when he was working as a truck driver. He played an electric likembé — a sort of distorted and electrified thumb piano — that he made himself. The instrument was key to Konono Nº1’s sound, a sort of meditative, percussive junkyard trance.

Konono Nº1 was around for decades before the world picked up on what they were doing. No known recordings of the group exist before 1978, and they didn’t play outside Africa until 2003, when the Dutch postpunk band the Ex brought them to the Netherlands. In 2004, their album Congotronics made waves with critics, as its repetitive grace sounded like nothing any of us had ever heard. It seemed completely new, even though they’d been playing it forever.

The group continued to tour and record in the years after. They appeared on Björk’s single “Earth Intruders” in 2007, and they’re a constant presence at festivals around the world. Mingiedi has been touring and recording with them up until the last few years. Below, watch footage of Mingiedi playing with the group in Congo.