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Rey Sapienz / Various
Mushoro / Electro Acholi Kaboom From Northern Uganda Clyde Macfarlane , September 10th, 2019 09:47

Two new cuts from Nyege Nyege Tapes dip into a rich seam of African electronica, finds Clyde Macfarlane

Two creative dips into African electronica feature here, with releases being represented by Ugandan label Nyege Nyege Tapes and its more club-focussed spin off, Hakuna Kulala. The Nyege Nyege release, Electro Acholi, is a double LP compilation of electronic adaptations of traditional wedding songs from the Acholi people of Northern Uganda. Hakuna Kulala present a six track EP from exiled Congolese producer Rey Sapienz, who now lives in Kampala.

The closest Western comparison to the genre of electro acholi could be the trend of hiring a DJ at your wedding as opposed to paying for a cover’s band. The early pioneers of the genre, featured here between 2003 and 2008, found a niche in a culture where wedding troupes have up to twenty-five members. The computerised sounds these producers made mirrored the rhythms traditionally performed with a large-scale percussive range of calabashes, ankle bells and call and response vocals. To give a contemporary twist the tempos of electro acholi tracks were sped up using multi-layered drum machines.

The result is a high-energy album that’s universally familiar as party music. Sadly, most tracks suffer from over-enthusiastic keyboard bleeps, leaving only a few choice moments in which the echoes of the traditional wedding songs can be heard. Jahria Okwera’s ‘Awinyo Bila’, for example, has an infectiously simple kick that will have fans of the excellent London/Kenyan outfit Owiny Sigoma Band nodding along approvingly; it’s probably a lazy association, but both Owiny Sigoma and the producers on Electro Acholi identify themselves with a broader musical culture known as Luo.

Rey Sapienz’s Mushoro EP is a real treat for avant-garde electronic music hunters. The DRC has a strong track record for digital experimentation, with bands like Mbongwana Star, Kasai Allstars, and Bantou Mentale being a few examples of how such Congolese institutions as soukous guitars and thumb pianos can be seamlessly incorporated into anything from dub to techno. From its opening beats, Mushoro rises up from a sparse dub template of the dank, dirtiest kind to take on a rich personality thanks to Sapienz’s confident tweaks at the effects board. The dancehall influenced ‘Dancehall Pigmé’ is enriched by bass-warped vocals, which add to the sense of weirdness that gives this project its oppressive pull. Let’s hope Hakuna Kulala are chasing Rey Sapienz for a full length release.