Kaloli by NihiloxicaRelease date: June 12, 2020
Label: Crammed Discs
Check out that bad boy glowering at you from the cover. Imperious up there on his garbage hill, freakish and filthy, a creature apart. A real life monster, the Marabou stork has the largest wingspan of any living bird and stands about five feet tall. It’s the unofficial national bird of Uganda, where the folk tale goes that God used up all the leftover pieces on the day he made the birds. In flight they glide gracefully over Kampala but, like a beast from dystopian fiction, they have taken to feeding on landfill and waste. Its foul diet mutating an already ugly bird into further abjection. Kaloli takes its name from the Luganda word for these beasts.
Nihiloxica mixes the Nilotika Cultural Ensemble’s command of the ancient Bugandan drumming tradition with the more modern electro/techno synth noise of UK producers pq and Spooky-J. I know this kind of cultural exchange project sets off some alarm bells but Nihiloxica avoids the familiar pitfalls of co-option and paternalism. It does not present itself as a bogus ethnographic study either but aims for a symbiosis, a true creative collaboration. How successful that coming together is or whether this is just a powerhouse African drumming record offset by sci-fi atmospheres and industrial tone blasts the future will decide. In the meantime it makes for an absolutely banging album of dark moods and agile polyrhythms.
It starts with a drone and a rattle, establishing the general mood of disquiet. Atonal synth blows over chattering drums. Part of the album’s great success is that the electronic elements do not impose brash melodic motifs or euro chord patterns over the African drums but wind atmospheric textures through and within them. Blocks of metallic sound crunch and rumble around in the same space. My guess would be that this is down to pq’s use of a hybrid kit, bringing a human rhythmic origin to some of the machine elements. It also explains the occasional appearance of more traditional drum kit sounds like the cymbal splashes in ‘Tewali Sukali’ which alternates between the two sounds more than others. It features a couple of breakdowns filled by the familiar expectant builds of techno taking it to a dense crescendo of fidgeting drums and buzzing electronics.
“this is a dance for the witches” Third track ‘190819’ is a short collaged interlude of offcuts and studio chatter looped and dubbed out. A little spacer but it serves a useful purpose both by invoking the deep roots of the drumming traditions and highlighting the absence of any kind of vocalising or chant we might expect elsewhere. While the drumming is masterful, the machine voice is subtle and varied. The swift pulse of ‘Black Kaveera’ is joined by floating drones, perhaps like the Kaloli circling on air currents. ‘Gunjula’s tense first half totally kicks off at the mid point, fluid drums ascending against a sheet metal pounding. Synth shimmers more familiar from the dance floor grace ‘Busoga’, and on the slower ‘Salongo’ they drift like the changing light as clouds pass over.
Detroit techno pioneer Derrick May famously described what he was doing as like George Clinton meeting Kraftwerk in an elevator. Techno was born of Afrofuturism but has often had an uneasy relationship with its rhythmic origins. The will to hush the inner voice and surrender to the beat is shared but the gap between the cold and merciless electronic grid of techno and the very human roar of multiple drummers is one that endless tribal house disasters have fallen into unmourned. The magic is in the fluidity of the rhythm and the flam, the tiniest variations in force or timing. In that fraction of a moment is a spark of energy, something deep and visceral.
The sickly shivers in ‘Bwola’ distort as it reaches a high of pounding mayhem. Both ancient and industrial it’s like a meteor shower of broken satellites crashing to earth around you. The music on Kaloli is irresistible, it takes effort to keep still when it’s playing. It may sound like some hybrid alien/robot band playing underground in Neill Blomkamp’s District 9 but it was actually recorded in Bradford, North England. A suitably unlikely location for Nihiloxica’s attempt to find a psychic space between two dance cultures. Their mission is a success, although as their name suggests, somewhat dark and nihilistic in mood. The future will not be gleaming and automated, it will already be ancient, a mutation grown on history’s landfill.