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The Lead Review

Rhythms Is Gonna Get You: Nkisi’s 7 Directions
Anna Wood , January 18th, 2019 08:49

Out today on Lee Gamble’s UIQ label, the debut album from Nkisi, Congolese Londoner and cofounder of the NON Worldwide collective, is polyrhythmic cosmic gabber of the highest and richest order


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“There must be quite a few things a hot bath won't cure, but I don't know many of them,” says Esther Greenwood, the hero in Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar. What’s particularly good, I’ve found, is having a hot bath and then pulling the plug and lying there as the water drains away around you. It’s like shedding a skin, almost, it’s like your past is pleasantly, lovingly saying goodbye as it slips away and you’re left to rise up anew. Listening to this album feels like that.

There’s something else I do when I’m looking for a cure to being alive, just as I think Esther Greenwood was: I imagine my mother and my aunties and my grandmothers and my great-grandmothers behind me, like a mountain range or a totem pole or an infinity mirror or, if I’m being specific about my daydreams, like all the Amii Stewarts in the ‘Knock On Wood’ video. They are my backup, in the sense that they are on my side and adding to my powers, and also in the sense that they hold memories (mine and their own). Imagining them there with me makes me feel stronger in a very relaxed, multidirectional way.


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“I’m really interested in bringing other systems of thought into my work,” Nkisi said last year. “Right now it’s ancient Kongo cosmology.” 7 Directions is dedicated to Dr Kimbwandende Kia Bunseki Fu-Kiau, author of African Cosmology Of The Bantu-Kongo and Simba Simbi: Hold Up That Which Holds You Up. (I think me and my mountain range of ancestors are holding each other up.) You can feel this influence in the record, where ebbing and flowing polyrhythms feel like ocean tides holding you aloft and taking you places.

“In a weird way, it’s like magical realism,” says Nkisi. “To work with the senses and be able to put people in a type of trance.”

It’s psychoacoustics, too, something else Nkisi talks about in interviews – finding out how the body and the memory is affected by sounds and rhythms. She’s making connections – between people, across time and space, in a way that is resilient, sustainable, pleasurable, powerful.


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To pull it down from your brain to your chest and your belly, this album feels like music from someone who understands what she’s doing to you with beats, rhythms, spaces, gabber, doomcore, all the rest of it. It carves out space, it creates energy, it feels goooooood.


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The seven tracks on 7 Directions run together, mainly, and you can lose track of where you are as you listen. Are there underlying patterns? The design on the cover – based on a symbol in cosmology that denotes cycles, movement, connection, life – suggests so. It shares ground, maybe, with Gabriel Roth’s 5 Rhythms, a process of dance and meditation where you might feel anger, fear, joy, compassion, sadness. There is a plaintive echo on ‘V’ that makes you feel like a cold cavern has opened up in your chest; the sharp jabs of vibra-slap and the shallow panting (one of very few organically human noises on the record) on ‘II’ can induce a giddy panic, a feeling that you are being hunted; there’s tumbling, reassuring softness on ‘VII’: you can’t pull it apart or translate it as easily as that though, there is no formula or rigidity.


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“Music is a kind of portal that can be opened,” says Nkisi. “But what am I pouring through it? What are my motivations?”

Nkisi is about more than making amazing music; she’s founded the NON Worldwide collective with Angel-Ho and Chino Amobi. Nkisi is Congolese, grew up in Belgium and now lives in London. Angel-Ho is South African and lives in Cape Town; Chino Amobi’s parents are Nigerian, and he grew up and lives in the US. NON Worldwide is for the African diaspora, for decolonisation, for reparations, for reinstating erased histories. They produce collaborations, parties, a community, excellent compilations.


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It’s certainly interesting to be a white westerner in a time when the white west is really losing its shit. The system that has been so prevalent for so long in so many places, with lots of white men making money and decisions, all loudly declaring themselves and each other to be marvellous, that system is – maybe, finally – collapsing. Most of us in the UK appear to be holding on to the mast during a particularly vicious clusterfuckstorm while the rats and the captain hop on a private plane to their house in Tuscany.

If you’re white, you might start thinking about what whiteness is and what it’s for. You might ask: what have you been ignoring while you were busy thinking you were right?

As the clusterfuckstorm howls, those of us brought up thinking that we are reasonable, decent, logical, post-enlightenment, liberal good guys – and those of us brought up thinking we might marry a reasonable, decent, logical, post-enlightenment, liberal good guy and maybe breed some more of them – we might start to wonder if we’ve been on the wrong ship all along.


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Seven directions might seem like a lot of directions. It’s not, though. It’s exactly the right number of directions. Up, down, left, right, forwards, backwards, and you.

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