Boomkat Product Review:
One of NNT's most exciting collisions to date, this self-titled album from Uganda's Nakibembe Embaire Group - one of the last remaining bands to perform with the log xylophone - splices their dizzying original material with unhinged collaborations with Indonesian vanguards Gabber Modus Operandi.
Anyone who's kept a close eye on Nyege Nyege's movements in the past few years will have probably come across Nakibembe Embaire Group. They've played at the festival plenty of times, and in 2020 brought their huge 8-person embaire to Berghain, setting it up alongside Gabber Modus Operandi and Jakarta-based A/V artist Harsya Wahono. The collaboration was incendiary, setting a process in motion that would grease the wheels for some of these recordings. Nakibembe play a style of music that's familiar throughout East Africa, but their specific approach is particular to the Basoga, an Eastern Bantu ethnic group who have their own tuning and instrumentation. The music is focused on the embaire, and players surround the instrument - that sits over a huge pit - hitting the wooden keys in hypnotic, polyrhythmic patterns while other bandmembers add shakers and drums.
The band's precise but fluid compositions comprise most of the material on the album and immediately situate us in Nakimbembe's world. Opener 'Omukazi Iwe Ongeyengula Nguli Zna Ntyo Bwenkola' highlights the embaire's enchanting tonal palette, a cascade of tuned woodblock hits that undergirds charged call-and-response Lusogan vocals and snaking shakers. But the band really shows their hand on 'Omulangira Mpango', ratcheting the tempo to 175bpm+ and displaying just how jawdropping their skills are, mutating tonal clonks into whirring blurs of rhythm and harmony. This neatly brings us to Nakibembe's first collaboration with GMO and Wahono, who fitted the embaire with audio-to-MIDI triggers, using the note data from a series of sessions to morph the rhythms, adding vocal vamps from Ican Harem over the top. '140' is surprisingly stripped down, sounding like Einstürzende Neubauten playing on rusty metal pipes with screamed, mic-burnt vocals providing punkish punctuation.
The collaboration hits a different tone on '160'; here GMO and Wahono feed the rhythmic data into their modular rig, leaving a pulsing kick to set the pace. Fluttering bleeps mimic Nakibembe's frenetic patterns, and GMO are free to drive into more familiar locales, seasoning their dusty noize with hoarse vocalizations and the kind of lavish, brightly-colored dance rituals they introduced us to on their albums. It's frighteningly idiosyncratic stuff, squirreling out sounds that feel connected to histories that's often obscured or erased from the canon. Come for the riotous log xylophone virtuosity, stay for the mindboggling cross-cultural conversation.