“Scene to Watch: Borderless Sounds” ft. East African Electronic
As the global community where 20 million creators from 190 countries share their sounds with the world every day, SoundCloud connects artists, bridges genres and pushes traditional music boundaries to create change. “Borderless Sounds” celebrates the 74th session of the United Nations General Assembly by spotlighting five global music scenes that show how sounds can come together to create new genres and drive music culture forward, across timezones and borders. Check back every day this week for a new Scene to Watch.
Scene to Watch: East African Electronic
Guest post by Philip Sherburne*
Though the “world music” sections of Western record stores might not acknowledge it, electronic music runs deep across Africa. In South Africa, regional scenes and subgenres like kwaito, gqom, and Bacardi house have recently reached global renown. Now Nyege Nyege is helping to connect communities across the continent – and help those musicians reach new audiences overseas.
Kampala, Uganda’s cosmopolitan Bunga neighborhood near Lake Victoria, serves as home base to Nyege Nyege, an artist collective, record label, and festival. A hub for cutting-edge electronic music from across East Africa, Nyege Nyege also represents a nexus of progressive values: pan-Africanism, the rights of women and LGBTQ+ communities, and a DIY ethos encouraging disenfranchised young people to take control of their own destinies.
The label has its origins in Boutiq Electroniq, a Kampala club night where young people could dance to kuduro, tarraxinha, soukous, and other sounds seldom heard in commercial clubs in Africa – and where LGTBTQ+ people could safely come together, a rarity in a country where homosexuality is criminalized. The club night’s European founders Derek Debru and Arlen Dilsizian inaugurated the Nyege Nyege label in 2017 with the Boutiq Electroniq EP, a collaboration between Kenya’s Disco Vumbi and the Ugandan musicians Martin Juicy Fonkodi and Nilotica Drum Ensemble.
That collaborative, internationalist spirit quickly set the tone for the label. The label’s next release came from Riddlore, a Los Angeles beatmaker and MC working with African field recordings; on record number three, Otim Alpha and Leo Palayeng reinterpreted the traditional Larakaraka wedding songs of the Acholi people of Northern Uganda and South Sudan using digital tools, yielding a glassy, vivid, intensely syncopated sound.
Nyege Nyege’s most radical discovery to date may be Tanzanian singeli, a mind-boggling sound that loops samples of regional Tanzanian and Kenyan styles into hyper-speed, triple-time rhythms that make drum’n’bass seem positively poky in comparison. Born in Dar Es Salaam’s slums, singeli is pop music in Tanzania, but Nyege Nyege specializes in a raw, noisy, and positively unhinged take on it, as practiced by Sisso, Jay Mitta, Bamba Pana (all of Sisso Studios) and DJ Duke (of the rival Pamoja Records crew).
Nyege Nyege’s interests in adventurous, futuristic electronic music are further concentrated on its Hakuna Kulala sublabel, where a growing roster of artists blends elements from global bass music, Afro-Portuguese batida, and other borderless electronic styles into powerful new sounds. Kenya’s Slikback has emerged as the brightest star among this crew so far. When he released his debut EP, in 2018, he had only been making music for a few years but had already amassed a substantial catalog of boundary-breaking electronic. His Nyege Nyege Festival sets impressed European show curators and he was soon playing stages around the world, alongside other Nyege Nyege members like Kampire, a young woman of Congolese descent whose DJ sets and growing international acclaim push against the patriarchal status quo. Kampire found a safe, welcoming space at the Boutiq Electroniq parties, becoming an organizer within the Nyege Nyege crew before stepping up as one of its most celebrated artists.
To hear more of these progressive artists creating their own narrative and shifting culture, stream our playlist NYEGE NYEGE – East African Electronic, and then check back tomorrow for our next scene to watch as part of our “Borderless Sounds” series with the United Nations.
“Scene to Watch” is the newest extension of SoundCloud’s To Watch programming that gives you a heads-up on who and what should be on your radar. Because from artists to DJs to scenes: what’s next in music is first on SoundCloud.
*Philip Sherburne is an American writer based in Spain. Currently a contributing editor at Pitchfork, he has been writing about electronic and experimental music for more than 20 years.