NYEGE NYEGE: The irresistible urge to dance

A view on contemporary African music

Nyege Nyege Festival, and its associated labels Nyege Nyege Tapes and Hakuna Kulala, are part of a music incubator based in Kampala that has two main areas of focus: to promote the diversity of music from the continent, especially endogenous micro-scenes and independent/outsider producers, and to level the access to means of production to build a sustainable economy that supports diversity.

For this year’s virtual National Arts Festival, we will travel to Mali to meet DJ Diaki, pioneer of the Balani show scene, then head to Dar Es Salaam to discover singeli, the breakneck speed sound directly in conversation with Balani, then to Northern Uganda to discover contemporary electronic music inspired by Acholi traditions. Finally, we’ll look at two more urban sounds, the Gengetone craze which gave East Africa a response to Nigerian pop, and South African east coast Gqom, which is inspired by more contemporary electronic club music.

We’ll also proudly present four performances, DIY modular synth builder Afrorack, Kenyan grindcore outfit Duma, East African hiphop diva MC Yallah, and avant-jazz project HHY & the Kampala Unit, who were all set to tour this summer and who will soon be releasing new works.

LISTENING SESSIONS

BALANI

DIAKI (Mali) – Diaki’s hard-thumping live electro balani show is the quintessential African rave sound, the one that can wake even the dead, drawing comparisons to shangaan, singeli and acholitronix as well as drum n bass and footwork. DJ Diaki’s style of balani show is a live performance on laptop, mic and drum machines. With influences of coupe decale and soukous, Diaki delivers an atomic blend of traditional balani electrified with all the West African candence! Diaki has perfected his craft over the last 30 years, and risen to fame after his Boiler room set at Nyege Nyege festival 2019 where legendary DJ Marcelle called him “The discovery of the Century”. His critically acclaimed debut release on Nyege Tapes (Feb. 2020) was album of the month in the Guardian, and his electrifying sets have earned him the nickname “Le President”, for his magical ability to channel ancestral rhythms and pull a club into a frenzy, from Berlin clubs to small villages on the outskirts of Bamako. DJ Diaki is also the head programmer at Sanankoroba Radio which he helped co-found.

Singeli

SISSO (TZ) – Mohamed Hamza Ally aka Sisso is a pioneer within the singeli scene. His studio in Dar-Es-Salaam is the epicentre of the world’s most thrilling, punkish new dance style. Artists such as Bamba Pana, Jay Mitta, and Duke have all created their music in his studio. Sisso’s productions epitomise Singeli’s hyperlocal scenius, distilling the vitality and struggle of life of the fringes of the Swahili-speaking world’s most populous city, into a unique music which seems to reflect the idea of keeping a cool head in frenetic situations. Between his ratchet rhythms and pitched-up melodies there’s a sublime, unresolved tension at play, where the music feels to accelerate so fast that dancers are gliding, sustaining a breathlessly “up” effect that uncannily recalls mid ‘90s UK Happy Hardcore as much as Chicago Footwork, Caribbean Soca and Shangaan electro, yet with a psychotomimetic appeal all of its own. Often accompagnied by Tanzania’s oldest female MC Rehema Tajiri together they represant one of the most unique and energising experiences on the dancefloor.

Acholitronix

LEO P-LAYENG AKA DJ PLK (UG) – Leo Palayeng is one of the pioneering architects of electronic Acholi music. Producer and DJ he has been a trailblazer in his community, empowering many young people with music production skills, while also bringing the great vocalist and musician Otim Alpha to the international stage. Leo can turn up the temperature on the dance floor anytime with his fast paced hypnotic dance music acholitronix, 150 bpm and up!

CURATOR: OTIM ALPHA (UG) – Otim Never Fails Anyone. That strong yet accurate statement refers to his heartfelt duty spawned from his role as wedding ceremony leader, a duty to involve everybody in the room in his performances, making them wholly spiritual experiences, creating an uncontrollable urge to dance. It’s documented that at weddings in traditional Uganda, special Acholi songs are played known as ‘Larakaraka’. Over a decade ago, Otim Alpha began collaborating with pioneering producer Leo P-layeng to mix up the style he was known for, into a newer hyper-frenetic electronic version. They toured the style across East Africa, and became known to Nyege Nyege Tapes, who showcased them at their festival and released Otim’s hit collection ‘Gulu City Anthems’ (2017). The tape sold out within days. Since then, Otim and Leo have played on many international stages.

Gengetone

MUSAU MUMO MATHEKA (NAIROBI) – Musau is a DJ and promoter of underground culture in Nairobi. Active since the 2010’s, he’s been instrumental in pushing Gengetone and SHRAP to wider audiences. Musau’s self professed life mission is to promote Kenyan music. As co-founder of the SHRAP movement, Musau’s has honed his skill as an A&R and has brought many fresh talents to the spotlight, including AD Family. He’s also the founder of the infamous SHRP night of Nairobi.

GQOM

MENZI (SA) – Menzi hails from the Umlazi township of Durban, where he rose to prominence as one half of Gqom pioneers, Infamous Boiz, whose influence is now felt shuddering from speakers in clubs across the world. Aside from producing, Menzi also runs the annual Gqom Bloq party, Festive Road Block Umlazi, and recently has supplied beats for some of South Africa’s biggest acts (Moonchild Sanelly, Mahotella Queens, Zolani Mahola and Zakes Bantwini). Daring to mess with the machinery of Gqom’s sharply defined style, Menzi opens it up with cyperpunk-cinematic sound design and searing synth dynamics to invoke and unleash the sound’s darker side. His debut EP on Hakuna Kulala received critical acclaim.

PERFORMANCES

Afrorack

Brian Bamanya is the first person to build diy modular synth setups in Africa, hence his alias Afrorack. The 30-year-old engineering wizard started his music journey playing guitar and creating his own instruments, untill he dove into the world of modular synths. Based on his own experimentations and findings online, Bryan developed an extensive homebuild modular synth set up on which he’s been performing for the last two years during dazzling improvised live-sets mixing techno, abstract electronics and acid. Broadcasted live on Boiler Room, Afrorack’s performance at Nyege Nyege festival last year sparked the curiosity of the audience. He performed at CTM festival in Berlin in February where he also took part in the Hacklab laboratory. In April, stuck in quarantine, Brian invented a way to create a DIY disinfectant.

Watch the performance [HERE]

Duma

Martin Khanja (aka Lord Spike Heart) and Sam Karugu have been an integral part of Nairobi’s flourishing underground metal scene for the past decade. Both were part of Nairobi based metal bands Lust of a dying Breed and Seeds of Datura. Together they formed Duma in 2019 during a year long residency at Nyege Nyege Studios in Kampala, with Sam abandoning bass for production ad guitars with Lord Spike Heart providing vocals to the project. Pushing the boundaries of grind, metal, electronica and industrial through their own experimentation over nine tracks that bring in elements of techno and trap into the foray as well and represents a new masterful meeting of these genres for the East African metal scene. Their debut European performance at Berghain in February transformed the main hall of the former power station into a massive mosh pit.

Watch the performance [HERE]

MC Yallah (KE/UG)

MC Yallah is a Kenyan rapper based in Uganda and an affiliate of Nyege Nyege. MC Yallah is also a veteran of the industry and became involved in hiphop music back in 1999, spreading a message of integrity and self determination. Last September MC Yallah released the LP Kubali with French producer Debmaser on NNT’s sublabel Hakuna Kulala. Their show was rated in the top five of best performances by Resident Advisor at Unsound festival in Poland. They played at the Venice biennal and at CTM festival in Berlin in February and were supposed to be all over Europe this summer.

Watch the performance [HERE]

HHY & the Kampala Unit

A trio of synthetic percussion, kingdom-come horns and viral electronics delivering ugandan futuristic music. An ensemble founded by Jonathan Saldanha (from HHY & The Macumbas), joining master percussionist from Congo with trumpet player and ghetto youth activist Florence Lugemwa in a mesmirizing polyrhythmic pressure configuration. Debut album Lithium Blast out 2020 on Nyege Nyege Tapes.

Watch the performance [HERE]