Ancient Ugandan Bungdan drumming meets techno on Kaloli by Nihiloxica. The group is a collaboration between Spooky-J & pq from the UK and the Ugandan-based Nilotika Cultural Ensemble along with input from the Ugandan label Nyege Nyege tapes. This heady cultural mix of electronics and tradition is intended to make you dance. On Crammed Discs.
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Nihiloxica are one of those bands who stand to lose a lot from the global concert shutdown. A crew which combines the forces of Leeds College of Music graduates Spooky-j and pq with Uganda’s Nilotika Cultural Ensemble, they make lithe, driving rhythm music in which massed percussion lines take on a peyote-hazed quality through synthetic embellishments. It’s the sort of sound that would completely sweep you up if experienced live, hence why it’s such a shame that Nihiloxica won’t be able to tour in the immediate future to support their debut LP ‘Kaloli’.
Still, the group's music remains arresting on record, particularly when ‘Kaloli’ leans more into the whirligig and occasionally abrasive synthetic tones that one associates with other acts in the orbit of Nyege Nyege Tapes, the label which broke Nihiloxica. At its best, ‘Kaloli’ plumbs the futurist spirit of the Kampala sound into the evergreen appeal of the polyrhythm. ‘Black Kaveera’ is driven by an insistent drum-machine pulse which develops into a strange and quicksilver rhythm track; ‘Bwola’ and ‘160819’ feature bass so blown out it could pass for The Bug; ‘Salongo’ is broodingly brilliant in the way the percussion lines morph; the synths of ‘Mukaagafeero’ lurch like a viper atop percussion made limber by some jazz-indebted kit work.
For all that I admire ‘Kaloli’, occasionally the album leaves me wanting more. In particular, the combination of drums and light electronic splashes starts to lose its potency after several relatively unchanging tracks. A tune like ‘Mukaagafeero’ offers possibilities in its change of tempos, dubbier textures, and more nakedly techno-indebted synths, but it does feel as if some of the spaces on the album needed a focal point, be that vocals, a lead instrument or some meaty harmonies. I also don’t think bass is used that intelligently on this record - the relative lack of tuned instrumentation means that some of these tracks could really do with being schooled in low-end theory, but often subs just hum, unchanging, at the bottom of the mixes.
This is an album to take breaks from. As a whole it can become a little one-note, the potency of the grooves sanded down by a rather samey tracklisting. However, when administered in bursts, ‘Kaloli’ is a hugely arresting chronicle from a group worth keeping tabs on.
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