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About the Artist

The brothers KONGOS — multi-cultural, multi-faceted, multi-instrumentalists — craft a
unique and irresistible sound spawned from shared DNA, diverse influences and spoton
melodic and lyrical sensibilities. On “Lunatic,” their 12-song Epic Records debut, the
band’s talent shines on “Come With Me Now”; the title an impossible-to-resist aural
summons, the rock-alt crossover tune kicking off with the accordion, jumping into footstomping,
staccato rhythms, slide guitar, and soaring epic soundscapes reminiscent of
U2. “I’m Only Joking,” whose lyrics hint at the album’s title, hits the mark with decisive
tribal rhythms and Pink Floyd-esque mysterious modern rock. Thanks to an earlier selfrelease
of “Lunatic,” KONGOS are already stars overseas, playing their numerous hits
off “Lunatic” for crowds of up to 65,000 at South African festivals and touring the
Republic with Linkin Park, and the UK and Europe with AWOLNATION and Dispatch.
With a Feb-March North American tour with Airborne Toxic Event and alternative and
rock radio hot on “Come With Me Now” and “I’m Only Joking,” (not to mention “Come
With Me Now” in promos for NFL, NBA and ESPN), 2014 is quickly shaping up as the
year the U.S. catches KONGOS fever.
KONGOS’ life story is as cinematic and captivating as their songs. The siblings, who
range in age from 25 (Danny) to 32 (Johnny), were born to popular ’70s South African/
British singer-songwriter John Kongos (“He’s Gonna Step On You Again,” “Tokoloshe
Man”). Spending their early childhood in London (all were born there except Danny),
then South Africa before settling in Phoenix in the mid-90s, the boys were exposed to a
wide variety of sounds. “We listened to everything from classical and opera like Puccini
to African tribal music to 60s and 70s pop and rock,” says Dylan, who cites African
bassist Richard Bona, Béla Fleck’s Victor Wooten, and singing players like Sting and
Paul McCartney as influences. His rhythm section partner, Jesse, who studied Jazz at
ASU (as did Johnny), remembers learning boogie-woogie and classical piano as a child
before getting into African drums, then jazz greats like Jack DeJohnette. As KONGOS
grew together as a rock band, Jesse loved the vibe and feel of Zeppelin’s John
Bonham, and currently admires gospel and hip hop drummers like Aaron Spears and
Carlos McSwain. Danny also boasts a myriad of influences, ranging from Jeff Beck to
Mahmoud Ahmed — “the James Brown of Ethiopia” — for his use of unconventional
pentatonic scales. Johnny, who is a student of jazz and classical piano, cites Keith
Jarrett as a hero, while his accordion playing draws from various world styles, including
South African maskandi and Qawwali music.
Despite the immense and wide-ranging familial talent, the brothers were never groomed
to be a “family band,” and as Jesse notes, “our parents wanted us to learn music like
you do Math or English.” But the siblings joke, “we got to a point where we didn’t want to
get a real job so we stuck with music.” Johnny adds, “Hey, most of the family bands
everyone knows have been hugely successful!” Of course, the Jackson 5, Beach Boys,
the Osmond Brothers and more recently minted family bands like Kings of Leon do
seem to have an advantage inherent in the DNA. That said, despite inborn talent,
KONGOS are all about hard work and humility. Interestingly, each brother writes
separately and brings completed songs to the group. Additionally, they don’t necessarily
sing their own songs. Live, Jesse and Dylan share lead vocals, while on “Lunatic,”
Johnny and Danny also sing: “It depends on whose voice works for that song,” says
Dylan. “It’s a lot of rehearsing to find where each voice fits; like Danny has a high
register that’s nice.” To make the family and musical dynamic smooth, Johnny notes
with a laugh: “We are a democracy with an occasional dictator. Everything band-wise is
done together, but recording we give the power to the songwriter. As for the day to day
organization and business, it’s a total democracy.”
Clearly, it’s a formula that works, and on “Lunatic,” they put all the pieces together into a
cohesive whole. The brothers use a family recording studio — Tokoloshe Studios —
named after their father’s hit song. Completely self-contained, they write, produce,
engineer and mix/master their music as well as direct, shoot and edit all their own music
videos. Hardly hermits, since debuting at a high school talent show in 2003 (covering
“Eleanor Rigby”!), beginning in 2007 KONGOS played out incessantly, focusing on
building a following in Phoenix, garnering local airplay, West Coast tours, and eventually
coveted slots at SXSW and CMJ. The years of dedication paid off: In 2011, hanging in
the studio, the brothers decided to email a few songs to South African radio stations.
5FM, the biggest Top 40 station in South Africa, playlisted “I’m Only Joking,” which hit
No. 1 on the rock chart and was the most requested song for 11 weeks in a row. “In
retrospect it was one of those crazy stories; the guy opened the email and played it on
the radio and it changed everything for us in South Africa,” recalls Johnny. “We didn’t
expect anything like what happened.”
While live is where KONGOS’ uplifting, universal musicality reaches the masses, the
studio is indeed a second home for the brothers — as kids, at their father’s home studio
in London, Elton John’s or Cat Stevens’ group was often the house band, while the
elder Kongos worked with Mutt Lange to program Def Leppard’s drums for “Pyromania.”
The total lifelong musical immersion makes “Lunatic” — and KONGOS — a rare breed of
band. Fluent in numerous styles and eras, still, at the end of the day, a rock band.
“We’re making rock and pop music and our more obscure influences may only come out
when we are attacking an extended solo,” they explain. “But we definitely relate to
bigger bands like Daft Punk, Coldplay and Queens of the Stone Age.”
The band also agreed that they were happy with “Lunatic” being a diverse record: “We
each have different styles and personalities, so we embrace that. We have a KONGOS
sound which is not exactly assigned, but we have an essence, a picture in our mind of
what it will sound like.” The press concur, praising the band’s “classic rock elements,
African rhythms and Balkan beats” and their “incontestable youthful talent…[and]
emotional outpourings.” The bottom line? KONGOS “want to write music that we like
listening to.” Fortunately, with tastes as diverse as theirs, that’s a winning proposition for
fans of all ages and predilections.