Kongos at the Great American Music Hall, by Carolyn McCoy
Kongos (photo: Carolyn McCoy)

Words by Carolyn McCoy

Sister Sledge said it best: “We are family.” In the case of the band the Kongos, it’s all about brothers. Kongos hail from Arizona by way of South Africa, and their childhood roots have seemingly bestowed upon these four siblings the gift of deep, heavy rhythms with their drum-centered rock. There is an incredible cohesion that sets them apart from other bands, as the music is almost literally in their blood.

The brothers Kongo are a talented bunch of men: guitarist Daniel Kongos, bass and slide guitarist Dylan Kongos, drummer Jesse Kongos and Johnny Kongos who does it up on accordion and keyboards. Aside from sharing vocal and songwriting credits, the band creates a self-contained music-making machine by doing their own recording and engineering; making their own videos and using vigilante marketing tactics that includes their own podcast as well as a 10-episode web series, Bus Call, centered around their life on the road. “We finally left our label,” singer-guitarist Daniel Kongos declared from the stage. “We were at a point of, just, ‘Fuck this business.’”

The band has three albums under their belt including Egomaniac (2016), Lunatic (2014), and the latest epic album 1929. The tour set off at SF’s Great American Music Hall Wednesday evening, a venue that creates an amazing intimacy between musician and fan. From the first notes to the last, Kongos set the mood for the night with music that was uplifting, vibrant, fun, and buoyant in a way that cut right through the crowd. The band’s music spans the gamut of genres— pop, blues, Zydeco, Eastern, electronic, African, and pure rock. After opening with the blues rocker “I Am Not Me,” the Kongos jump-started the night with the danceable groove of “The World Would Run Better.” Peppering their set with new songs as well as the mega-pop hits such as “Hey I Don’t Know,” “Pay For The Weekend,” and the foot-stomper “Come With Me Now,” Kongos dug deep into their catalog of great songs and ended the night with the encores of the Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby” and their song “I’m Only Joking.”

Up until about two weeks ago, I had not heard of Kongos. But upon discovering them, I was immediately hooked on the music they create. With those hard-driving rhythms and throbbing beats molded into a modern vibe, the band has now created a new and rabid fan in me.