The Story of East African Records

Features

East African music is getting its place in the spotlight and with a wealth of talent previously highlighted, East African Records (EAR) are at the forefront of getting the world to step up and listen to the endless pool of talent that needs to be heard.

The distribution platform also has a studio in Kampala alongside doing ‘label-type services’ such as helping artists to develop a promotion strategy, assisting with creative direction, helping get covers and videos made, linking musicians  to producers and sorting out people’s online profiles. We’ve already highlighted some of the most exciting music from East African Records and they have helped to break artists such as MC Yallah, Faizal Mostrixx and Ecko Bazz.

EAR are “not a label”, as founder David Cecil has stated many times to me. They are more of an enterprise that looks to bring about a levelling off of the African music scene, which has for years disproportionally favoured other regions of the continent.

“People struggle to think of a single East African artist and when I talk to one of the higher ups in the streaming industry, he described East Africa as a ‘black hole’.” EAR director and Founder David Cecil told us. “One of the things we wanted to address when setting up EAR was to say, there is a lot of good music here and the local scene is very vibrant.”

Beginnings and early endings

Tilapia Centre Kampala Uganda

EAR’s root first took hold when David moved to Uganda and wanted to help build a space for local artists to create and showcase their work.

 “Initially my idea was to set up a cinema, which was going to be an independent cinema with a bar and cultural activities but then it evolved into a live music space Tilapia. We did some DJ nights and some of the electronic music scenes that are active in Uganda one could argue it started there.  It was, to my knowledge, the first rave that had ever happened in Uganda.”

However, David’s plans were almost de-railed before they really got started as Tilapia played host to a play about the conditions of homosexual people in Uganda, a country where it is not only illegal to be homosexual, but can be punishable by death.

The River and the Mountain was billed as a dramatic comedy, hoping to break down taboos and dispel a lot of myths about gay people that were seen as “paedophiles and monsters” to a lot of Ugandans.

After being banned at the national theatre, the play moved back to Tilapia where the show went from strength to strength and was a success. But problems were rumbling under the surface as law firms were consulted to see if the play was breaking any Ugandan laws.

“I said to everyone if anything goes wrong, I’ll take the blame. If the director for example had got in trouble, she could have gone to prison. I was very arrogant and thought they couldn’t possibly put me in prison – it wasn’t even activism in my eyes”.

 “Whoever heard of somebody going to prison because of a comedy drama? Unfortunately, I did go to prison.”

David was kept in prison for nearly a week and subsequently put on trial for 3 months, charged with “disobeying lawful orders”. However, David won his trial as the judged dismissed the case on the grounds that the prosecution didn’t have any evidence and he was subsequently let free. However shortly afterwards, David was picked up by unmarked police and taken to holding cells and kept for a week. David was deported from the country back to the UK.

“I literally didn’t have time to pick up my toothbrush.” David recounts “I arrived back in the UK in shorts and a t-shirt and had to get my Dad to pick me up in mid-winter.”

Even after that experience, David wanted to return to Uganda and after a 2 year battle, he was given leave to return to Uganda in 2015.

“That was the year of the first Nyege Nyege and I was helping out at the festival. Having said I would go back and keep a low profile, I ended up on stage!”

The East African wave

Blessed San in the music video for Traitor ft Stalawa

East African Records was set up when David returned and a locally sourced team was gathered to help bring his vision to life.

The studio was set up alongside Wana Benjamin, Timothy (aka T-Mo) and Amani Greene –  all local producer-engineers who made beats, recorded live sessions and helped manage the studio. Semulema Daniel worked on local promotion and artist liaison and had a team ready to push music on the underground and mainstream media.

Utilizing the studio as well as distribution, Ugandan artists were able to gain a more all-encompassing experience. Essentially you could record your music in the studio and EAR would handle the distribution of your music, as well as assisting with local promotion, which will hopefully lead to a growing fan base and live shows.

“Our distribution service was new and unusual to most people in Uganda – so we used the studio and live shows as a way of publicizing the distribution service”.

There was a real need in East Africa for investment in music and the arts. A lot of talented artists who wouldn’t have the contacts or funds to move forward with their own projects could hit stumbling blocks on the road to getting more recognition.

“Artists are normally expected to pay for their own promotion. Sometimes they will have a rich manager come in and say ‘I’m going to make you big, I’m going to pay for this stuff’. Because there isn’t a lot of financial liquidity in Uganda, it’s very hard for Ugandans to earn money through live shows. If artists complain in the UK or Europe about the economy of the music industry, they haven’t seen anything. It’s 10 times worse in Uganda.”

Ugandan artists primarily make a living from live shows, with side jobs in collaborations, merchandise and commercial endorsements. “Most local artists are not making a living wage off music- that is the reality”. David tells us. “The ones who were succeeding before Corona were very busy gigging all the time and it was like 10% of those who made anything worthwhile. I always tell people to get a day job or sponsor or they’ll quickly get disappointed!”

Outside Influences

A pile of equipment at East African Records Studio in Kampala

The last few years have coincided with a surge in talent coming from the East African music scene, absorbing music from other parts of the world.

“We are hearing EA Wave in Nairobi; they are a self-styled electronic movement that has emerged from hipsters in Nairobi. Then you are hearing new forms of hip hop in Uganda called ‘Luga-flow’, it sounds like an international hip sound but Ugandans have a way of working the language which is very melodic. I don’t know what they are saying but the words just flow.”

But alongside Nyege Nyege Tapes, whose explosion in popularity for its African music hasn’t occurred before in the underground music scene, there could be an argument that this is a warped image of the African underground that is purposely designed for Western audiences.

“[You sometimes have] outside actors operating in Uganda who are influencing Ugandan artists to deliberately produce music that is more palatable to an international audience,” David explains.

 “That can be problematic as you are encouraging people to make music that is to be consumed abroad but those people abroad think it’s authentic, local music. They are making music in a local spirit, but they are not making it for the Ugandan crowd.”

It’s both a gift and a curse in a sense, as artists who previously struggled to sustain their art could have brand new income sources from Europe and the West, but could have to sacrifice their true identity. This has led to conversations propping up about the difficult balance between outside influences on African music, potentially shifting the landscape of the music scene.

Ugandan DJ Authentically Plastic said in a recent Unsound festival roundtable “Black Techno Futures” that the African underground could be in danger of “European voyeurism”.

That losing of authenticity is not in danger any time soon, not only because of the huge popularity of Ugandan producers and MC’s for their own local music ecosystem, but also in East African Records variety in its musical output. You will find pop, trap, and techno co-existing and given equal love and attention.

On the flip side, outside influences being fed into the African underground has created some of the most interesting and exciting music in the world, and arguably can’t be replicated outside of Africa. “I personally don’t have a problem with that happening. They might like it and they might think that the direction the label is suggesting is better and in many cases the labels coming in they give the artist full creative control.”

Investment in East African music

Blaq Bandana – Motoka Yange. Out now on East African Records

With an ever growing roster of artists and talent that David and his team have helped nurture, you sense that this is only the start of an upward trajectory for EAR. That upward trajectory can arguably be mirrored in the ever growing popularity in legitimate music streaming in East Africa.

Currently music consumption in Uganda is driven by kiosks – local shops where you would go along to have music downloaded to an mp3 or laptop. Despite helping to drive exposure for artists, they won’t make any money back, unlike streaming. Even if the streaming revenue is famously low for artists, it could still provide some much needed revenue. Tidal has become one of the first of the big streaming giants to recognise the emerging African market, offering cheap subscription deals.  

“Our system anticipates these developments, as we get all our artists copyrighted and established on major international streaming platforms. We think the industry in Uganda will go legit and EAR is positioned as one of the only (perhaps the only?) distribution company that operates transparently and legitimately.”

But streaming revenue won’t help a burgeoning music scene by itself, as real investment is needed in a country that has been ignored for so long by international markets.

“I saw that setting up a venue was a good thing because I was able to give a platform for artists to try out new material and I would invest in career development. It was the same thing when I set up the studio. For me, one of the most positive things you can do for the music industry is building the infrastructure and partnering with artists to help reduce costs, so if you are talented and broke, you still have a chance to create the music and platform it.”

The new batch of East African music festivals such as Nyege Nyege and Kilifi New Year may have a lot of international acts on their lineup, but nonetheless they showcase the melting pot of talent that exist within the region and self-sustaining independent festivals can provide not only performance opportunities for local musicians but also gain widespread international attention and transform people’s perspectives of the region.

“Apart from that you have the British Council and Arts Council one-off funds. Are they worthy, yes but they aren’t sustainable. If you coming in with one grant or sponsoring a singular event, unless you invest in the infrastructure where are those artists going to be playing. We need less one off grants and more investment in infrastructure.”

Listen to our East African records takeover show on Reform Radio:

Top Tracks from East African Records

Features

Following our East African Records Takeover on Maracuya Soundsystem, we will be bringing a series of articles about the distribution service and studio based in Kampala, Uganda which is aiming to bring the best in East African music to the world.

First up, we have highlighted our personal picks from a wealth of music that EAR have helped to release or distribute, featuring some of the most exciting and promising artists from the region. If you enjoy the list, there is more music on an East African Records playlist to check out via Spotify, where label founder David Cecil from EAR has picked his own personal selection of tracks.

Elle Bero – TOPOWA

MC Yallah began her ascent to greatness from East African Records, so could rising Ugandan musician Elle Bero be the next? She shares the same energy and positivity with bright and fun track TOPOWA providing a necessary positive push during times of crisis.

“This was the best time to release the song – people need hope for a better tomorrow.” Elle, the self-made entrepreneurial musician told us. “They can change their situations, they don’t have to lack in life. The second verse is all about when times get tough, I get tougher”.

Faizal Mostrixx and Susan Kerunen – The Thi

A lot of music was released in the crazy last few months we’ve  had but one release from ‘Ebikokyo’ from Ugandan “tribal electronics” maestro Faizal Mostrixx, pop/folk singer Suzan Kerunen & instrumentalist Aloysius Migadde has slipped under everyone’s radars.

We could have picked any track from the EP, but The Thi holds a special atmosphere to it as The Suzan’s echoey voice breathing life combined with a flowing flute, gives a traditionally African vibe that feels modern and fresh.  

Dimitri and the Scarecrow – Jigsaw African

Dimitri and the Scarecrow was created by Zimbabwean artist Dimitri D. Kwenda and Crass Roots Raps, released earlier this year on EAR is a deep, introspective and powerful release, that has gained more traction since the growing BLM movement.

Jigsaw African highlights the overarching themes of the album, ‘addressing African matters as an observer, victim, idealist, realist, critic & the privileged’. The track deals with the duality and self-analysis of being within a privilege position in a country and continent with huge class and social divide.

Often time a difficult and raw listen, but you will struggle to find a rapper in Africa challenging the social norms in such a way.

Control – Ecko Bazz, Blessed San and Black Badana

Kampala meets New York in this bouncy track featuring some of the biggest names associated with EAR, whilst production comes from the founder of the label David Cecil.

The video takes the viewer on a trip around the streets of Kampala surrounding Boutiq Studios, which each rapper taking their tune to spit their verse, reminiscent of classic Wu Tang Clan songs.  Maybe this super group can return for more tracks in the future, but as an experimental one off it’s one of the most addictively brilliant tracks from EAR.

Byg Ben Sukula – Ba Kuka (For the Ancestors)

Ugandan hip hop artist Byg Ben Sukuya launched his debut album ‘Imbuka Eyi’Yange  (This Is My Time)’  back in 2018. The album is a perfect slice of Kidandali, meaning “local party” or “celebration” and that’s what that track Ba Kuka (For the Ancestors) is about.

This track is made for the dance floor, with an up-tempo, impossible not to shake along rhythm. The only break you get is a bridge where Byg Ben shows off his impressive vocal flow, before the party starts back up again. Listen here if you need a good pick me up.

MC Yallah – Ting Badi Malo

Over the last few months, you can’t go anywhere without seeing MC Yallah. Resident Advisor, Wire Magazine & 6 music are raving about the prolific Ugandan MC . However she’s been perfecting her craft for 20 years now and East African Records were one of the first to promote her music, with ‘Ting Badi Malo’ releasing back in 2018.

You could argue this was where the seeds were sown for the MC Yallah of today through this track, spoken in her Luo (her native language) flow, with a call for unity in the midst of crisis. A year after when Kubali with Debmaster was released, arguably sending MC Yallah into the stratosphere but Ting Badi Malo was the Launchpad for that success.

 [MONRHEA] – I & [I]

[MONRHEA] was one of the first East African artists that we featured on our show back in early 2019 and her long awaited debut album has finally arrived on Youth Sounds records. Her [ART] sees [MONRHEA] divulging into the dark corners of techno and bass, in vast contrast to a lot of the party style music often seen from her East African contemporaries.

Stand out track I & [I] builds a sonic range of heavy bass, clattering kicks and alien instrumentation, making us long for a return to the dark night club floors that have been shuttered since March. African techno has a bright future.

Blaq Bandana – Kikubamutwe 

Blaq Bandana’s first solo project ‘Motoka Yange’ was premiered on our Maracuya Soundsystem East African Records takeover show and is out this Friday 31st July.

Taking the reins in co-production is Kenyan super producer Slikback, who worked with Blaq Bandana on previous track Kikubamutwe. Slikback’s music always captures a warped style of tradition and futuristic and with Blaq Bandana’s vocals on top, brings a new and formidable duo that could soon shake up the African underground hip hop scene.        

“He reads his mind and I read his too,” he told us about the musical process the pair share. “He makes a beat that defines a real Blaq Bandana”.

Listen to our East African Records takeover on Maracuya Soundsystem:

In Conversation with Don Zilla

Interviews

With no other interviews available of him online, little information beyond his bios and Instagram and an incredible musical background, I didn’t know what to expect from my Skype call with Don Zilla.


Don Zilla, like the name alludes to, is the de-facto ‘Don’ of Ugandan label and festival Nyege Nyege and its more experimental offshoot Hakuna Kulala. He has become an in-house producer at Boutiq Studios in Kampala and has had a hand in the music that has made Kampala the incredible hub of forward thinking and genre defining music.

Don’s output has included a blistering two track EP ‘From the Cave to the World’ , a remix of SVBKVLT’s 33EMYBW, had a futuristic set at Nyege Nyege festival and has had a role in Villaelvin, involving Welsh artist Elvin Brandhi, Hakim and Swordman Kitala, in one of 2020’s best releases so far.

Don Zilla’s EP “From The Cave to the World”
Image source: Bandcamp


With a dense imagination, he smashes together traditional African sounds with bass and experimental music to make his signature raw, relentless and often frightening sound, that feels like something the world isn’t ready for.


The prospect of my meeting with ‘The Don’ was an exciting opportunity to get to know the man behind the music, but that didn’t stop me from being slightly nervous.

However, once I began the Skype call and Don’s smooth, calming voice mixed with the serenity of his environment I could hear behind him, my whole perception of him had changed.


This conversation took place in early April, when Uganda was under one of the strictest lockdowns across Africa which is only now being eased. Travel was restricted to food shopping only and a strict curfew meant you had to be inside your house before 7pm.


Don was living in Kampala, near the Boutiq Studios, Don’s place of work and a go to place for much of Nyege Nyege and Hakuna Kulala’s talent such as Slikback, Nihiloxica and Ecko Bazz. Sadly the studio has been temporarily closed during the coronavirus, leading to delays for some future projects such as the highly anticipated Fulu Muzuki album.


But he was in good spirits given the circumstances and I could hear in the background a calm and natural environment full of birds and other sounds, indicating he was living in a peaceful environment during these far from peaceful times.


Since he was a child, Don had always dreamed of being a music producer, like a divine gift instilled to him as a child. It would be apt then that Don’s musical began in a church setting. His father was a priest and he first began playing drums in the church band before being invited Don to observe the church bands, which helped develop Don’s keen eye for music and the ability to absorb information, essential skills for a young, aspiring music producer.


With all of this knowledge, Don entered the outside world (or what his church called ‘The secular world’) and met other musicians first by observing their work and then participating himself as a band technician.

“I helped technicians, carrying equipment, organizing the stage. For me it was a new thing but I felt like now I am entering the field I want to be in”.


Years of working in the background, still driving towards that ultimate goal of being a music producer followed. Other music producers and musicians that Don had contacted were mostly willing to share and open up their knowledge for a young, enthusiastic producer but other times Don was met with hostility.


“Some people were greedy; they would not share their knowledge. Even those who had studios, I had to bribe them and pay money just to sit there and watch what they were doing”.


A stint in a band as a keyboardist followed but it wasn’t until 2014 that Don first encountered Nyege Nyege. At the time the label had yet to put out any releases and Nyege Nyege Festival had not yet started, but they were throwing parties in downtown Kampala under the name Boutiq Electronics.


“Whoever wanted to dance to a different kind of music would come and dance at these parties,” Don explains, affirming the party’s status as a hub for outsider musicians, looking for a place to discover new music.


The music played at these parties, leaning towards the more underground African dance music that didn’t get much airplay, but would later define the label such as kuduro and tarraxinha. This inspired Don or as he puts it “I got into the groove”.


“I’m not a person who is used to dancing. I would come, watch, listen and then learn,” continuing Don’s lifelong ability to absorb his surroundings and then store that knowledge for later use.


Things progressed over the years, leading to the inaugural festival in 2015 but it would still be a few years before Don would become fully involved with the label.


The fire within Don to produce music was burning even fiercer at this point but limited resources proved to be a hurdle. Undeterred, Don would continue with his dream and desire to produce music.


Don turned to FL Studio (widely used by African musicians and other musicians who lack big studio resources, highlighted in this recent brilliant history piece in DJ Mag), but without his own personal computer, Don relied on local internet cafes.


“I would pay for a certain time, download demos of FL studio and tried to work out something. At the end of the day, you had no way to save it as it was a demo. You would do a sketch but the next time you would come you find that the software has been deleted because they are not your computers. You have to push on”.


At this point, the Don Zilla of today really began to take shape, with him saving to buy musical equipment for his eventual dream of a music studio.


“I bought a soundcard, headphones and a microphone as my first equipment. Truthfully, I had no idea how those things worked or didn’t know where to start but I had the belief in me that I could do it.”


That soundcard would in-avertedly shape the rest of Don’s career and life, when Boutiq Studios needed a soundcard.


Boutiq Studios, opened by Nyege Nyege tapes in 2015, is more than just a recording studio. It’s a community space and a unique place in East Africa for talent to grow. Don describes the studios as “a united nations of artists”.

Image Source: Resident Advisor


Don had lent the studio his soundcard for a few days and when he went to pick it up from the studio, he bumped into Derek Debru, co-director of Nyege Nyege. The two hadn’t met in a while and a conversation sparked up between the two, where Don shared his ideas and dreams about producing music. After the conversation Don sent a beat, which excited Derek very much. This led to an offer.


“Derek said ‘We have a studio here and there is not much going on. We have some issues with the producer. If you have time, you can always come around and do your thing’”. Soon after that, Don joined the studio and had finally got his space to develop himself as a producer.


He worked day and night, learning musical production software. Using these tools, he was able to lay down his own productions. “I couldn’t believe that I could be able to produce something like that”.


Don had cemented himself as a member of the Nyege Nyege family at this point, getting numerous gigs as a DJ around Kampala and working full time at the Boutiq Studio.


“It has been a very good experience for me as a person to see this journey coming from scratch to where I am today. I’m thankful for the people around me and I’m also thankful for life for allowing me to live and touch what my heart has always desired”.


But the journey for Don is far from over. His latest project Villaelvin features a collaboration with Welsh sound artist Elvin Brandhi. Elvin is a producer and sound artist from Bridgend who began as one half of father-daughter noise duo Yeah You.


Her signature sounds mostly involve found sound and field recordings, un-nerving vocals and a powerful, glitched out sound palette. Had she been born in East Africa as opposed to Wales; she would have immediately gravitated towards the Nyege Nyege label.


The project first began thousands of miles away from Don’s home in Uganda, at a nightclub in Berlin. One of the Nyege Nyege directors was playing a DJ set, with Elvin in attendance, when he dropped Don’s track ‘From the Cave’.


“He played that sound and people went mad. He told me he has never seen anything like that in his entire life of being a DJ,” Don proudly tells me. “It was like a possession.”


Elvin in the crowd and was amazed that the sound was being produced in Africa. Her interest led her on a journey to find the source of the sound and the master behind it. A trip to Kampala in April last year was soon arranged.


“By the time she came to Kampala, she already knew who I was, but I didn’t know who she was. That was funny and weird to me,” Don chuckles.


Despite their different backgrounds, the pair immediately got along like kindred spirits. Don described it as “being on the same frequencies”. They bonded over their love of this new and exciting sound coming from Uganda.
The pair began collaborating, taking found sounds recorded at Don’s church as their main source of inspiration and combining it with Elvin’s ghostly vocals and Don’s signature warped, futuristic sounding percussions. The result was new album ‘Headroof’ released earlier this year on Hakuna Kulala, the first full LP released on the label.

Villaelvin – Headroof LP
Image source: News Break


“I didn’t actually think it was going to be released,” Don recalls. “It was very serious but at the same time we were playing around. It was like playing a game”.


This album will hopefully be seen as a start of a great deluge of creative output from Don Zilla, as a full-length LP under his own name is set to be released in the near future. The album has been in the works since 2018’s ‘From the Cave to the World’.


“An EP is like an introduction. So for people to fully get to know you, you have to do something bigger than you have done before”.


The album is in the final stages of production, “with only one project on the album giving me a headache” as Don puts it. You can see why delays could inevitably happen with the very careful nature that Don puts into his work. “Most of my music I think so much. I think to an extent that people get irritated!”.


Tapping into the ‘spiritual’ and ‘dimensional’ nature of his music is something he is devoted to, leading to the thoroughness in his work. “I take a long time because you need to tap into those dimensions to bring out the message you want to bring out”.


The topic of conversation inevitably turns to the COVID-19 pandemic. Don gave his own thought-provoking assessment on the pandemic.


“All of this came to us as a test to humanity. It doesn’t matter who you are, where you’ve come from, it has come to test us. It has happened because at one-point people were very careless with mother nature”.


The lockdowns across the world have blighted the music industry, arguably the most blighted of sectors around the world. Nyege Nyege is no different, with gig cancellations for much of the artists and the much adored Nyege Nyege festival looking more and more in jeopardy the longer we go on without any real solutions.

Nyege Nyege Festival promotional artwork
Image source: AllAfrica


Unlike in the UK where the Arts Council has provided emergency support for music artists in the UK, such financial support doesn’t exist within Uganda or many other parts of Africa.


“[In some cases] we are not cared for as much as artists in some parts of the world. If you are an artist [in Africa] and you don’t work hard to have something that you can depend on, life will become hard on you,” Don tells me. “We just have to be prepared with life and try to work hard in different ways not only in music, but to give you income to at least shield you in times like these”.


Don knows all too well about tests in life, spending years building towards his dream and finally achieving his goals. There is a lot to learn from Don’s journey, that we ourselves can apply in times when all seems hopeless within the world.


“There is nothing to do but stay focused and think bigger than we have been thinking and go on with life. Life still goes on and life is still good”.

Listen to our interview with Don Zilla on Reform Radio’s Mixcloud:

Nihiloxica Interview @ The White Hotel

Interviews, Uncategorized

For the launch of our new Maracuya Soundsystem website, we will be bringing you write ups of interviews we have conducted during the past year as Maracuya Soundsystem. First up is the time we met Nihiloxica at White Hotel last October. They played an intense, blistering set to a packed-out room.

Nihiloxica’s album may be delayed, White Hotel may be closed for now, but enjoy our catch up with the guys after the show.

With the blindingly dense smoke, flashing lights and flailing bodies; you would be mistaken for thinking this is one of the usual White Hotel infamous rave nights such as Helena Hauff or Objekt.

But tonight is different. Instead of the usual singular DJ, behind the prison like frame of the White Hotel dance floor, is Nihiloxica. They’re a group of African drummers from Kampala in Uganda, that are so close and intimate to the audience, you almost feel like a part of their large ensemble.

Nihiloxica a group of African drummers from the Nilotika Cultural Ensemble backed by two British born musicians, drummer Spooky J (Jacob Maskell-Key) and pq (Peter Jones) on synths. Their wild Bugandan rhythms somehow marry perfectly with the brooding, intense techno noise that you wonder how it’s taken so long to combine the two.

Spyda MC acts as a front man/ hype man for the ensemble. Gesturing to the crowd, getting involved in the audience and at one point screaming so hard, he wouldn’t be amiss in a DC Hardcore band. The rest of the drumming ensemble are made up of Prince (Kasooma Henry), Isa (Isabirye Henry) & Jally (Mwanje Jamiru), who captivate the audience with their hypnotic, memerizing rythmns. There are few, if any, live bands in the world like them.  

Nihiloxica, along with their label and festival organisers Nyege Nyege Tapes, are at the heart of an African electronic music renaissance which is changing the perception of African music and the region as a whole. One Quietus reviewer even described them as ‘The best band on Earth right now’.

We were lucky enough to catch up with the band following the show.

White Hotel event poster

Explain Nihiloxica for people who are unaware of the group.

Prince (Kasooma Henry): I can’t say we have a title or name for our music, because it’s more of a mixture of cultures. What Nihiloxica is trying to do is to show people from different cultures and countries, you can come together and do something really amazing that people will appreciate in all corners of the world.

How did it come about?

S J (Jacob Maskell-Key): I went out [to Uganda] a few years ago with my friends. We got in touch with Nyege Nyege Tapes and they invited us out there and invited us to play the festival and do a collaboration. Part of the collaboration was with Nilotika Cultural Ensemble and I met these guys. We did a session together and it was really fun. I ended up working in the UK for a year and then coming back. I got funding to start a project and this is the project.

Spyda MC (Aineomugisha Alimansi Wanzu):  I’m a Hip Hop MC but I mainly do it in my own language. I joined the Nilotika Cultural Ensemble as a rapper and I used to spit on their beats and then afterwards I learned how to drum and that’s how I joined the band.

S J: The idea of our live show was to make a live interpretation of everything we had been making and producing. We combined our love of electronic music, techno and metal combined with our love of African music and percussion.

What’s it been like moving to Kampala?

pq (Peter Jones): It’s been really nice. The scene there is awesome and the general attitude is very laid back and it feels free. Everyone is a bit of an entrepreneur. Everyone has an idea and it feels like a place where things can happen.  

S J: I felt more at home when I went to Uganda then I did when I came back to the UK. The lifestyle, culture and the way people treat each other is much better. When you come to Europe, it’s a lot more closed. People feel insular.

P: People in the UK are really lonely. [In Uganda] everyone is a friend to their neighbor but here, you can spend a week without seeing your neighbor or you don’t even want to know who your neighbour is.

We’ve heard that you do work for young people within Kampala in Uganda through the Nilotika Cultural Ensemble. Can you describe what this involves?

P: Nilotika Cultural Ensemble is a group of elders and youths who are into spiritual entertainment. We bring people back to their roots and customs.

We help the youth in a way of giving them jobs. We try to teach them how to make their own jobs through fashion by teaching them tailoring and craftwork using their hands and brain. We show them you don’t have to go to school if you don’t have the capacity to go and there is another future ahead if aren’t able to go to school.

We don’t have a number, it’s always growing and growing because we welcome each and everybody, especially the youth and elders who are left out. We show them the world is still going, you still have a life no matter what the hardships in the country are. You still have to be happy because you can make your own living out of scratch. 

How does drumming play into that?                       

P: Way back in our culture, people used to drum for fun. If you felt sad, you would just get your drum and get happy. We have that element of the traditional drumming to make people happy, because when they have been taught how to play, it makes you forget your hardship or your sorrows.

Drums are so spiritual, when you are playing you become one with the drum. The more you become connected to the instrument, the more it helps you release all that sorrow hidden into yourself and you get free.

Everyone in the Ensemble plays every day. When we wake up, after lunch. It’s our daily routine.

Your first UK show was in Printworks supporting Aphex Twin. How was that?  

P: I didn’t know who Aphex Twin was before being invited, but I’m grateful to him for inviting us. He personally picked us out to play in his show.

If it wasn’t for him, we wouldn’t have been able to come to the UK. It was really huge for us.

Now you’re at the White Hotel. How was it playing the venue?

P: The White Hotel defines who we are. When we arrived into the venue, we thought ‘This is really us’. You get to see the real us, the real music that we do and the energy we put into it. These shows are back and forth, it’s so close and you get a lot of intimacy. It’s been one of my best shows so far.

S J: The intention is to play these kinds of places, not like a world music festival. Our music is supposed to be for a club.

S MC: It’s good to control a crowd that actually responds to you.

Sometimes you go to a show and wonder if anyone is going to show up. In Uganda, people show up 2 hours beforehand. Here, they show up exactly at the time of the show or 5 minutes before. You’re backstage thinking ‘Are people actually going to show up?’.

Nyege Nyege Tapes and alongside that Nyege Nyege Festival have become renowned all over the world, but within such a short amount of time. What does it mean to have a festival like that in Uganda?

P: Nyege Nyege Tapes has done a lot for Nihiloxica by bringing us together. It’s given us a platform to rise and present ourselves worldwide. If it wasn’t for them, we wouldn’t be here today. In terms of the festival, it’s given a big platform for artists and has given them a chance to be recognized.

S J: What’s nice about Nyege Nyege Festival, it’s in Uganda but it’s a combination of everything that is happening in all these different places. There’s SVBKVLT in Shanghai, there’s Baile funk happening in South America along with all the different electronic movements in Africa. Nothing is Euro-centric.

Obviously, we are touring Europe all the time and there’s amazing stuff here but there’s amazing stuff happening everywhere else. I feel Nyege has been this platform and place where everyone has come together. It’s a totally random place if you think about it, but it’s a beautiful thing that’s it’s all culminated in this one place. When I last there, Gabber Modus Operandi were doing a residency, there were guys from Brazil, there was a footwork DJ from Chicago. Just a whole mix of everything.

Do you have good stories from Nyege Nyege festival?

P: Man I have all the best stories! (Laughs).

One of my best stories, I got to watch Fulu Muzik from The Congo. They have these instruments from like pipes and rubbish.

S J: It’s called Trash music.

P: I never expected to see these guys and I was like, this s**t is real. They are even better than us realistically in the way they made their instruments, the way they sounded and performed on stage. It’s my greatest moment of Nyege Nyege this year.

S J : It’s KOKOKO!’s original band from Kinshasa that has been going for around ten years. They came to Nyege Nyege and me and Pete recorded them a week before the festival so they will hopefully release an album on Nyege Nyege Tapes.

P: They’re the future of music. They show you what music is. You can make music out of trash!

Visa’s have become an growing issue in the UK, particularly over the last few years with a lot of musicians being denied visas. Is this something that you have experienced?  

Pq: Not personally but I’ve heard stories from other Nyege Nyege artists. Visas are tough and the crux of it is corrupt and kind of racist. A lot of the times, you’re trying to prove that you aren’t going to stay in the place you are applying for the visa to. They want to know you have a return flight, you have family ties and a job in your home country so they can be assured you don’t want to stay.

It’s just fundamentally wrong. They have this assumption that you want to stay there. None of the guys in our band want to stay in England. They couldn’t think of anything worse. They want to stay in Uganda where they’re from. It’s based on this principle of ‘We are better than you and you obviously want to stay in our country, so we are going to make it really difficult for you to come here’.

Luckily, we have loads of gigs booked and have hotels and flights booked, so we can prove we aren’t staying. But that’s not the same for other members of the Nyege family. Jay Mita (Singeli Producer on Nyege Nyege Tapes) has been refused so many times. There was a big thing with MC Zo & DJ Duke (Singeli DJs and performers). It seems the Tanzanians get particularly hard.

[MC Zo & DJ Duke] were going to play in New York as part of a Nyege showcase. They’re probably quite young and had just got their passports, which is a big cost. They applied, got the show and flights booked costing thousands of pounds and were just denied a visa because there was no proof they had a reason to go back.

What do you think the cultural impact would be if guys like you can’t play the UK anymore?

Pq: Culture should flow freely and that’s what develops a country. You have economic means of measuring how good a society is but there’s also cultural means as well. Everyone just focuses on the economic side of things but not how many new ideas are you having. It’s detrimental to culture.

Listen back to our interview on Reform Radio Mixcloud:

https://www.mixcloud.com/reformradio/maracuya-soundsystem-17th-october-2019/