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Duma Noel Gardner , September 7th, 2020 08:19

Kenyan duo Duma bring the Nairobi metal scene to Kampala's Nyege Nyege Tapes label

“It’s African, it’s metal, it’s all guts on the table,” enthused Sam Karugu of Duma in a recent interview – referring to the brilliant photo used for their debut album’s sleeve art, and by extension the music within. A quote which gets to the meat of the matter as stylishly as the woman in that photo, while still warranting being broken down a little.

Duma, a duo of guitarist/producer Karugu and vocalist Martin Khanja, are from Kenya’s capital Nairobi. Their Africanness is unambiguous, yet the music on this self-titled LP – a clandestine meeting of extreme metal vocals, murkily distorted beats and creepy synthesised atmos – is less obviously traceable to any continent. Duma’s Ugandan label Nyege Nyege Tapes has grown into one of this moment’s most thrilling via an eclectic crop of releases which, most commonly, combine specific regional music styles with cutting-edge electronic production. Excepting a couple of clues for the clued-in, such as the solemnly spoken vocals of ‘Pembe 666’ being a Swahili translation of Bible verse, if you played Duma to people without offering any background info I’m sceptical that many would have the first idea where it came from.

Karugu and Khanja, who also goes by Lord Spike Heart, have a solid grounding in Nairobi’s metal scene, past ventures including the deathcore-ish Lust Of A Dying Breed and doomy oddities Seeds Of Datura. Those bands are formed of riffs and, if by no means commercial, then certainly familiar rockist structures in a way that Duma absolutely aren’t. Karugu subsumes his guitars into processed abstraction as much as the speedcore-cubed beats – ‘Angels And Abysses’, the album opener, includes what sounds like manmade percussion, but there’s no repeat incident of such. Khanja’s vocals are guttural utterances with clear death metal influence, but he’s no generic grunter, swerving into adlibbed-sounding gasps and whoops on ‘Corners In Nihil’ and further corrupting the blackened industrial of ‘Lionsblood’ with cries of what could be anything from distress to joy to rage.

Not everyone would think of Duma as a metal album – I’m not sure I do – but these are extreme sonics, and to the extent that the listener can extract recognisable emotions from the wreckage, it certainly feels like guts-on-the-table music. Concessions to dance(able) styles come and go, like the great hoofing kickdrums within ‘Sin Nature’, but often spill over into something more like digigrind meets noisecore, such as the weird, slippery ‘Kill Yourself Before They Kill You’. Other segments tip closer towards dark ambient or horror electronics, yet even while Karugu and Khanja are cheerfully upfront about their collective musical influences, it’s barely plausible how they birthed something as out there as this record. It’s also a peculiarity how it’s attracted so much overground attention, especially in the context of the Nyege Nyege roster, but Duma fully deserve it.