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HHY & The Kampala Unit
Lithium Blast Antonio Poscic , January 21st, 2021 08:58

A collaboration between Jonathan Saldanha of HHY & The Macumbas and trumpet player Florence Lugemwa, percussionist Omutaba, and the Kampala Prison Brass Band sends Antonio Poscic on a journey to sonic grooviness guided by cosmic nerve endings

“So, do you know anything about techno?” This innocent question sets the stage for an infamous scene from the 1996 obscure bundle of quirkiness called Vibrations. As cybernetically enhanced musician TJ Cray (alias Cyberstorm) embarks on his quest of achieving electronic music stardom, the enlightened, 90s-in-the-flesh character Simeon answers his own query with a logorrheic, increasingly deranged lecture and keyboard demonstration. Techno is “hardcore nu-tronic mutilation”, we learn, a path to “a psychotically calibrated, electronically executed, digitally compressed, pus-excreting journey to sonic grooviness” guided by “cosmic nerve endings”. While Bob Christianson’s film score and accompanying music couldn’t be farther removed from the implied mind-blowing sci-fi sonics, this scene has a curious way of instilling an idea, a vision of an evolving phantasmagorical soundscape. Could this music exist beyond an imagined abstraction? And if so, where could we ever find it in the real world?

Enter HHY & The Kampala Unit. Under the guidance of Portuguese musician, artist, and HHY & The Macumbas leader Jonathan Saldanha, trumpet player Florence Lugemwa, percussionist Omutaba, and the Kampala Prison Brass Band fuse varied electronic influences into a medley that sounds as grandiose and mighty as the music described by Simeon in Vibrations. While the group’s style shares experimental and viciously energetic DNA with colleagues from the Nyege Nyege roster, Lithium Blast is more visceral than blazing. Elating rather than eviscerating. Taming tempos and rhythms, yet hardening their seismic impact.

The formula is deceptively simple. As a basis, they erect huge pillars of techno, dub, dancehall, and jungle around sharp electronic phrases and effects. These have clean contours, but their flesh is possessed by a reality bending vibrato, like a heat haze in a desert. Then, everything starts dancing around Omutaba’s clever combination of digital and acoustic percussion that embodies a character at once primal and highly sophisticated. Finally, scintillating synth rays plucked from a space rock opera and empowering, endlessly rising trumpet blows focus aural assaults as if trying to bring down the construction.

‘Bursting Through the Gates’ and ‘Hunter’ are utterly majestic results of this approach: shapeshifting cuts that reach for the sky but are grounded by bridges between arrhythmic rhythms and the hypnoticism of conga drums, elevated by booming brass flair. Somewhere in the middle of the record, while we’re still observing the stars safely from Earth, things become threatening. Synths resist before accepting mutations, vibrating and destroying themselves with deeply resonating frequencies on ‘Mesh Intensifier’ and reach restless energy levels akin to the Afro-inspired punk jazz of Italian duo Mombu on ‘Fission Core Fluid’. The breathless gurgling textures and cosmic afrobeat of ‘Gun’ and the Arca-like, expansive and hiss-infected ‘Lithium Blast’ slowly ascend back to space, while the glistening ‘Shing Scar’ charts a journey between the heaviness of quasars and neutron stars on waves of Afrofuturism.

As the very much alive, purple glow of the meteorite on the album’s cover suggests, the music of HHY & The Kampala Unit is more than human. As if it reached us from a distant world, bringing with itself a transmogrifying agent. Perhaps like the one envisioned by H. P. Lovecraft in The Color Out of Space, but with an unstoppable optimism of future transformation in place of existential dread. A belief in change for the better. A sensation that, in the wise words of Simeon, “nothing can doom this groove”.