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  • Writer's picturehwandawa

Electronic Music In Africa: The New Golden Era

When people talk about Africa's golden era of music our minds are often drawn to the afro-funk sounds of musicians like Fela Kuti and Ebo Taylor, or its soulful songstresses, such as Miriam Makeba, who weaponised their voices in the struggle against apartheid and other colonial shackles.

Whilst the magnitude of this musical age is undoubtable - after all these songs still conjure an unrivaled urge to shake every inch of your body - Africa's youth have been creating a musical renaissance of their own, combining electronic sounds with the indigenous. The result? A melting pot of high energy, experimental, tribal slammers that would send any dance floor into a frenzy.

Two people who saw the potential in the untapped scene brimming within the continent are Arlen Dilsizian and Derek Debru, founders of labels Nyege Nyege Tapes and Hakuna Kulala, and the now famed Nyege Nyege Festival.

After living in Kampala, Uganda's capital, for 10 years the pair found themselves free from the western stereotypes that attempt to define what African music is. By hosting parties throughout Uganda and opening up a recording studio they found themselves in "direct conversation with a lot of modernist strains of contemporary experimental electronic music” Dilsizian told Mixmag. This discovery compelled the two to provide the myriad of musical talent with a platform to share their sounds further afield. And so, Nyege Nyege Festival emerged in 2014 followed by the label Nyege Nyege Tapes two years later, championing the outsider sounds emanating throughout Africa.

Nyege Nyege Festival 2019

One Nyege Nyege mainstay who has sailed into international waters is DJ Kampire. Mistress of all things bassy, her sets are nothing short of electrifying. Combining afro-house, soukous, kuduro, gqom, baile funk and the currently undefined electronic sounds arising from East Africa, her sets are a true representation of the outsider sounds championed by the Nyege Nyege collective. Her sharp ear for bouncy, rhythmic pan African body shakers fuel her sets, setting fire to any dance floor she graces.

Kampire's undeniable talent has turned her into a pretty in high demand DJ. This year alone she's had sets at London's Phonox, Wilderness Festival, Shambala, Spain's Paraiso, Lente Kabinet and Fusion Festival to name but a few, and is currently on her first US tour!

Slikback, another Nyege Nyege affiliate, has also gained international acclaim, delivering an absolutely killer set at this year's Dekmantel festival, playing 3 sets at Poland's Unsound in 2018 - one of which was dubbed as one of the best sets at the festival by The Guardian, Resident Advisor, Pitchfork and Crack Magazine - and donning the decks at the former Parisian dancers' mecca, Concrete. Deep, dark, dubby and tribal, Slikback's sets and productions encapsulate the warped, club ready music of East Africa.

Fresh to the art of production, having only started in 2017, he's already developed a sound extremely distinguishable in the western landscape, collated into 2 EPs; Lasakaneku & Tomo, both of which have been hailed as must-have's for any avid music collector.

Move further south to the central territories and you'll find the home of kuduro, an energetic amalgamation of soca, zouk, samba, African percussion and techno around a 4x4 beat. Starting in the 80s during Angola's civil unrest, kuduro's intent was to bring normalcy to a war torn country and celebrate being alive. Decades later, whilst the civil war is over, Angola is in the grips of a corrupt and cruel dictatorship.

Finding the existing form of kuduro a little too light to reflect the frustrations and emotions of oppressed Angolans, Nazar transformed the genre into what he has coined as "rough kuduro". Ingraining the sounds of war with ominous synths, anti government chants and rhythmic percussion into the genre's signature hypnotic beat, Nazar has created a uniquely dark yet infectious hybrid of sound.

Encasing the South African underground is the unrelenting thump of gqom. Rougher than the clean sounds of kwaito house, darker than the luminescent tones of South African house, gqom has an undeniable rebellious energy which could have only been birthed in townships like Durban. Filled with menacing synths, chants, broken beats and cascading tom rolls, there lies a sense of tension, but also euphoria as the beat elevates you higher, waiting for a drop that seductively never transpires.

The sound has clawed its way out from the obscurity of its native underground to international dance floors, with the likes of Kode9 weaving gqom into his sets, and it also making it to the big screen, with Distruction Boyz' infectious roller, Omunye, featuring on the Black Panther soundtrack.

The advent of cheap or free production software, digital DJing and the internet has fostered and emboldened a new generation of musicians to craft sounds reflective of the current African experience and given them the ability to share them on a global stage. Whilst the continent's rich musical history should and continues to be celebrated across international dance floors, it would of course be naive to assume the evolution and development of music in the continent halted or became irrelevant. Africa is proving itself to be a strong contender in the electronic music realm and I can't wait to see what is sure to be its meteoric rise within the scene as it brings a much needed breath of freshness to western waters.

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