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Kaloli Noel Gardner , June 9th, 2020 08:07

Hailing from Uganda (but recorded in Bradford), Nyege Nyege Tapes' alumni Nihiloxica offer up six musicians giving it six-nowt on their debut album for Crammed Discs

Kaloli, the debut album by Anglo-Ugandan sextet Nihiloxica, is a powerful and exciting record which follows up two EPs that were fine works in their own right. Time might come to acknowledge it as a watershed release for percussion-based music – this being the essence of the project: the four members from Uganda’s capital city Kampala shape the sound via an assembly of drums specific to that country, while their two English foils contribute synths and other digital elements.

Arguably the result isn’t so much radical as up for grabs: I wouldn’t necessarily expect people to listen to Kaloli and think, “how are they making that sound?” Yet despite a laudable amount of collaboration and exchange between the scene fomented by Nyege Nyege Tapes (the Ugandan label who issued Nihiloxica’s previous releases; this one is serviced via a larger label, Belgian veterans Crammed Discs) and a few open-eared UK producers, no-one else is serving up produce quite like this, to my knowledge. Western electronic music has a decades-deep history of trying ‘afro’ or ‘tribal’ drums on for size too, often in rather reductive or appropriative ways, but if anything such tendencies are inverted here.

It’s consistently hard to ascribe a mood to the group’s tones and arrangements across these eleven tracks, three of which are shorter interludes distinct from the innate danceability of the eight others. The drums, of varying sizes and tuned to various extremes of pitch, are intense, locked-in and most often at a BPM analogous in a clubland sense to, say, mainstream techno. Samba drum bands are stylistic cousins, sure, and I caught an early-80s go-go feeling from ‘Salongo’. One would be well within their rights to find them ecstatic, uplifting. Equally, there’s a brooding darkness to this rigid groove, supported by the electronic backdrops. I’ll admit to sometimes not being certain what’s what in that regard, right from the start, in fact: is the metallically droning intro to ‘Supuki’ a gong or a computerised imitation of one? Is it important that I know? Less so than my compulsion to crank the forboding widescreen techno jam which follows, surely.

‘Black Kaveera’, in the album’s middle third, could for its first three minutes at least pass for lights-off wyrd-techno of that Silent Servant ilk. On ‘Gunjula’, a zigzaggy electronic tone agitates with triumphalist live percussion, cordially enough until about five minutes in when the clashing elements blow up into a proper row. In a good way, it should be stressed. And while the large, euphoric synth riff Peter Jones supplies for ‘Busoga’ is a detail Nihiloxica normally sidestep, it works a treat here, a potential ‘in’ for fans of, say, Daphni or Nathan Fake.

Drum patterns are enacted with such heads-down precision you sometimes feel like Nihiloxica’s beatsmen could human-loop in perpetual motion, but in fact these tracks mutate with subtle incrementalism, rarely telegraphing their switch-ups. ‘Mukaagafeero’ – a rare slowing of pace, Alimansi Wansu Aineomugisha and Jamiru ‘Jally’ Mwanje’s engalabi drums given more room to breathe than usual – and ‘Tewali Sukali’, where Henry Kasoma’s namunjoloba cuts through the tricksy main percussive pattern with sustained, reverb-y hits, are instructive examples.

Kaloli was recorded in Bradford last September just after Nihiloxica had supported Aphex Twin at Richard D James’ request, and if they’re the Nyege Nyege crowd’s current Most Likely To Succeed, this has been greatly aided by people seeing them play live, in which context they’re legit blistering. That this excellent record sounds like six musicians giving it six-nowt in a room with minimal studio tinkerage could be to their advantage. You won’t be watching Nihiloxica play live for a fair while, but you can and should prime yourself for such future privileges.