Late last year, The Prehistoric Man drew our attention to the thundering intensity of Nihiloxica's debut EP from Nyege Nyege Tapes. Although the cassette only release quickly sold out, it's still available for download, our music editor Jason Lewis was so impressed he immediately included it in his albums of our year, deep-sixing... Oh I can't remember now who it was. We're pretty excited then to have managed this pretty exapnsive email interview with the band just as they were making their European debut at the CTM Festival in Berlin...
Outsideleft: How did you guys get together? Are you all from Kampala? I get the impression that's where you live and work?
Nihiloxica: We all met last year after Nyege Nyege Festival. After doing a few recordings of the Nilotica Cultural Ensemble we stayed in touch and planned this project for the following summer. Spyda, Prince, Isa and Jally are from Kampala but Pete and Jacob came over from the UK. We are all currently living here and making a living in various ways. We do a lot of work with the Cultural Ensemble, who teach tailoring and drumming to the local youth and perform at events around Uganda.
Outsideleft: How far removed would you say your EP is from typical bugandan drumming. The heritage is so much more than a mere sound how does that whole history work when you embed synths and so on...?
Nihiloxica: The main similarity is in the instruments, but the way we are playing them is 70% different from the traditional way. Usually the traditional songs don't have a strict structure as they follow the movement of the dancers, so we are following the movement of the synths instead! Kadodi is out most tradtional song from the EP, although it comes from the East of Uganda (Busoga, not Buganda) and is performed at circumcision rituals. When we play it, there is a much clearer order in place than when it would be played traditionally, as we have no ritual to perform to - only ourselves and the crowd, so the music serves a different purpose. The whole idea of this band is to mutate the indigenous music; so it's really been a learning process in terms of how African and European cultures have come together, and how we've all learned to respond and play to eachother throughout the process - that was why we wanted to do a live project in the first place.
Outsideleft: You seem to have some british European connection how did that come about
Nihiloxica: Well, two of us were born there! Both in Nottingham, to be exact. The connection to Kampala came through Blip Discs (a great label run by our friend Tom Blip) and Nyege Nyege, who organised the 2016 recording trip we mentioned earlier.
Outsideleft: Tell us something about your recording process, composing process the whole thing!?
Nihiloxica: The recording of our EP happened extremely quickly. Pete and Jacob arrived a month before Nyege Nyege Festival with a clear and ambitious goal in mind: Write, rehearse, and record an album in a month, and have the debut perfomance at the festival. The album would be composed entirely of live tracks, so the performance would be easy - we would just play the album! I think we did really well considering the timeframe, and our good friend Ben Beheshty, who flew over to help us record it, did a great job engineering. The composition process involved Pete and Jacob bringing synth parts to the table and inviting the guys to play over them, as well as adapting their parts over traditional rhythms. This is the workflow we are beginning to favour, and you should see a lot more of this on the next EP.
Outsideleft: Your tape only label (how cool is that...) is above and beyond retro. Fantastic! how did that relationship come about?
Nihiloxica: This whole project couldn't have happened if it wasn't for Arlen and Derek, who run the festival and Boutiq Studio, where we are currently based. It made sense to release on Nyege Tapes, not just because of our relationship but to represent a local label pushing all types of far out music coming from East Africa.
Outsideleft: Are kids in Kampala listening to pretty much the same homogenised pop as everyone everywhere? Are there scenes? Are there bands musical acts you'd recommend we hear? What did you listen to when you were kids?
Nihiloxica: There is a lot of pop music, especially on the radio, and a lot of it comes in the form of our own local style of dancehall, which we call kidandali, and afrobeat (not Fela Kuti style, but emulated from Congolese lingala). Radio stations vary though, we have some (called 'English Stations') that only play western pop, then more local ones like Capital, Sanyu FM and KFM. When you go out to a club, most of the music you hear is some kind of dancehall - it's really taken over here, and the people love it so much. Kampala has a really busy nightlife actually, but for us the music can get boring. Part of this nightlife is due to the fact that Uganda has a large young population, so there is a lot of opportunity for scenes to grow. For example kids are getting more into hip-hop with their own style called luga flow, which Spyda is involved with. Electronic dance music is slowly becoming more popular in the form of afro house and tropical bass, but is still very much a niche here. The more experimental side of things is being pushed by Nyege Nyege and the parties they run under the Boutiq Electroniq Sound System umbrella.
As kids we grew up listening to a lot of Kadongo Kamu, 'one guitar music', which is much more based off ancient styles in the way that they tell tales.
As far as musical recommendations, we have plenty! There is a wealth of talented guys who all perform at Boutiq Electroniq events, such as Kampire, Faizal Mostrixx, Slikback, Otim Alpha, Rey Sapiens, Don Zilla, Grackyll, Hibotep, and Katudiosis who are all worth checking out. Also on the hip-hop side of things we have Ba Cypher Kabaka, Kongoloko, Blaq Bandana, Will'stone, and MC Yalla.
Outsideleft: Are there good venues for you to play?
Nihiloxica: There are the venues like The Sheraton Hotel and Serena Hotel where the big shows happen. But in terms of vibe for us guys there is The Jahazi in Munyonyo, Kakindu in Jinja, and Gatto Matto in Bugolobi. In terms of sound though we have had trouble as a band trying to find somewhere to play due to a more complicated set up.
in the studio
Outsideleft: The EP is brilliant what's next for you guys? Are you coming to WOMAD or anything like that in Europe, or the US this summer? I know there's the rest of the world but...
Nihiloxica: Thanks! We are about to go play CTM Festival in Berlin (Feb 3rd) for our European Debut, and hitting up Strange Sounds From Beyond festival in Amsterdam on June 23rd. But watch this space as we may have some more dates coming up around then!
Outsideleft: How can people find out more about the band?
Nihiloxica: You can check us out on social media as 'Nihiloxica'. But also check out Nyege Tapes Bandcamp for our release, we should have some more material coming out this summer...
Main band photo: Thanks to Grace Holyoake-Ward
We wholly recommend a great feature about Niholixica's label Nyegenyege and the Kampala music on Resident Advisor. We're hoping to feature more musicians and artists from Uganda in the very near future.
Ancient Champion only ever communicates with us online so, so much we don't know. Proud Citizen of Nowhere is the response when we ask where you from? We do know the Ancient Champion is releasing a new single each month of 2018. Instrumental music characterised as easy listening for difficult people. And a collection of extremely short stories, Six Stories About Motoring Nowhere as part of the SideCartel's Sextet series. More info at AncientChampion.com