‘A sudden, uncontrollable urge to dance’: the magic of Nyege Nyege Tapes & Hakuna Kulala Club Night ‘A sudden, uncontrollable urge to dance’: the magic of Nyege Nyege Tapes & Hakuna Kulala Club Night ‘A sudden, uncontrollable urge to dance’: the magic of Nyege Nyege Tapes & Hakuna Kulala Club Night ‘A sudden, uncontrollable urge to dance’: the magic of Nyege Nyege Tapes & Hakuna Kulala Club Night ‘A sudden, uncontrollable urge to dance’: the magic of Nyege Nyege Tapes & Hakuna Kulala Club Night

‘A sudden, uncontrollable urge to dance’: the magic of Nyege Nyege Tapes & Hakuna Kulala Club Night

Wed Sep 8th
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Forget Detroit, Chicago, and Berlin for a minute. Some of the most exciting electronic music records are being cut in the capital of Uganda, Kampala, and many are coming out of label Nyege Nyege Tapes. The collective is committed to shedding light on some of the best outsider music made in Kampala and all around East Africa.

This November, Le Guess Who? is drawing attention to the label, featuring performances from some of Nyege Nyege Tapes’ most irreverent names, such as Kenyan black metal project Duma (who are curated by Phil Elverum for the festival). The Kampala label will also bring the heat to Utrecht with Hakuna Kulala’s Club Night, in which names from the futuristic sub-label, like Turkana and Diaki, will surely shine bright.

You can also listen to this story – below or via your favorite podcast app.

Uganda has been the backdrop to an array of violent conflicts since its independence from the United Kingdom in 1962, as well as a military dictatorship that lasted until the late seventies. But, even under nearly constant war, Ugandan people still strived to live, dance and love. Traditionally, weddings would be played by Larakaraka bands (large traditional musical groups) but these became far too costly during wartime, as troupes would often consist of up to 25 members. 

Turned off by the cost of Larakaraka bands, couples wanting wedding music started looking at local DJs. The arrival of easily accessible digital audio workstations like Fruity Loops in the late nineties had made the number and quality of producers flourish. They were willing to put in the work for a wedding slot, oftentimes writing exclusive songs for the newlyweds, filming the ceremony, and, of course, performing at the party. The music sounded familiar enough; early pioneers like Leo Palayeng or Opiyo Twongweno followed closely in the footsteps of their traditional predecessors, copying percussions and call-and-response vocals. At the same time, artists were incorporating fresh ideas into the sound.

As wedding song tempos sped up and pounding drum machines slowly overtook the mix, new, exciting genres of electronic music were born –  electro Acholi and acholitronix.

A few years later, Derek Debru came to Uganda and met Arle Dilsizian, who had been living in Kampala for nearly a decade. They bonded over outsider East African music, and, after meeting Ugandan percussion troupe Nilotica Drum Ensemble, they started hosting parties that brought together DJs, musicians and MCs from all over Kampala. In 2013, the effervescent sound heard blasting from the speakers in those early days got a home – Nyege Nyege Tapes

Despite their chosen name, Nyege Nyege Tapes flourished digitally rather than physically. Although there is a demand for the cassettes themselves (which are all sold out), it was through the internet that word spread about their experimental releases. Their catalog has been praised by international media outlets like Pitchfork and The Guardian, and their roster has been steadily conquering the world, with Nyege Nyege names found in line-ups all over – including this year’s Le Guess Who?. They also host their own music festival, Nyege Nyege Festival, which has been happening since the label’s creation and features many of the same artists. It has since become the largest electronic music event in the region and one of the best worldwide, according to Resident Advisor and FACT.

One of the artists that performed at the last edition of Nyege Nyege Festival was Menzi. He is also part of the line-up of the Hakuna Kulala Club Night at Le Guess Who? 2021.

The label’s international appeal is similar to the one of Acholi electronic music producers in the 2000s; like wedding planners and goers, we are all looking for something we can dance to – but also something that dares to spark our curiosity. Much of Nyege Nyege Tapes’ appeal resides in the names coming out of its fiercely experimental sublabel, Hakuna Kulala. In it, electronic music takes center stage, and the louder, the wilder and the faster, the better.

Five of the sublabels’ best will be performing at Le Guess Who? this fall, under the Hakuna Kulala Club Night umbrella, each representing a different nationality; South Sudan’s Turkana, Uganda’s Authentically Plastic, Mali’s Diaki, the Netherlands’ DJ Marcelle/Another Nice Mess and South Africa’s Menzi

Even though they land in a bundle, it would be unfair to assume all these artists are similar in any way. In fact, even though they all come under the Hakuna Kulala name, their background, sound and performance style couldn’t be more diverse. To those intimately familiar with Nyege Nyege Tapes, this miscellaneous nature shouldn’t come as a surprise. After all, they are known to put their seal on whatever strikes them as an interesting addition to their catalog – from the tamer electro Acholi mixes to pounding polyrhythms rushing by at over 200 beats per minute. If there is one thing festival goers can prepare for Hakuna Kulala Club Night is that there are absolutely no rules.

From seasoned icons like Diaki, to fearless newcomers such as Turkana or Menzi, Hakuna Kulala Club Night welcomes a wide range of sonic and performative experiences. At times, it will be Authentically Plastic’s politically charged afro-futurism, which defies Kampala’s social conservative climate and creates a safe, fun space for queer and femme artists to explore music and themselves. At others, Amsterdam’s mixing extraordinaire DJ Marcelle/Another Nice Mess, who is regularly seen spinning not one, not two, but three turntables.

Hakuna Kulala Club Night’s passage by Le Guess Who? will feature a bit of everything;  techno, house, dance and, most of all, as Nyege Nyege translates to in Luganda: “a sudden, uncontrollable urge to dance”.

Text by Beatriz Negreiros
Audio by Cheri Percy


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