Duma - Duma

The Quietus

“It’s African, it’s metal, it’s all guts on the table,” enthused Sam Karugu of Duma in a recent interview – referring to the brilliant photo used for their debut album’s sleeve art, and by extension the music within. A quote which gets to the meat of the matter as stylishly as the woman in that photo, while still warranting being broken down a little.

Duma, a duo of guitarist/producer Karugu and vocalist Martin Khanja, are from Kenya’s capital Nairobi. Their Africanness is unambiguous, yet the music on this self-titled LP – a clandestine meeting of extreme metal vocals, murkily distorted beats and creepy synthesised atmos – is less obviously traceable to any continent. Duma’s Ugandan label Nyege Nyege Tapes has grown into one of this moment’s most thrilling via an eclectic crop of releases which, most commonly, combine specific regional music styles with cutting-edge electronic production. Excepting a couple of clues for the clued-in, such as the solemnly spoken vocals of ‘Pembe 666’ being a Swahili translation of Bible verse, if you played Duma to people without offering any background info I’m sceptical that many would have the first idea where it came from.

Karugu and Khanja, who also goes by Lord Spike Heart, have a solid grounding in Nairobi’s metal scene, past ventures including the deathcore-ish Lust Of A Dying Breed and doomy oddities Seeds Of Datura. Those bands are formed of riffs and, if by no means commercial, then certainly familiar rockist structures in a way that Duma absolutely aren’t. Karugu subsumes his guitars into processed abstraction as much as the speedcore-cubed beats – ‘Angels And Abysses’, the album opener, includes what sounds like manmade percussion, but there’s no repeat incident of such. Khanja’s vocals are guttural utterances with clear death metal influence, but he’s no generic grunter, swerving into adlibbed-sounding gasps and whoops on ‘Corners In Nihil’ and further corrupting the blackened industrial of ‘Lionsblood’ with cries of what could be anything from distress to joy to rage.

Not everyone would think of Duma as a metal album – I’m not sure I do – but these are extreme sonics, and to the extent that the listener can extract recognisable emotions from the wreckage, it certainly feels like guts-on-the-table music. Concessions to dance(able) styles come and go, like the great hoofing kickdrums within ‘Sin Nature’, but often spill over into something more like digigrind meets noisecore, such as the weird, slippery ‘Kill Yourself Before They Kill You’. Other segments tip closer towards dark ambient or horror electronics, yet even while Karugu and Khanja are cheerfully upfront about their collective musical influences, it’s barely plausible how they birthed something as out there as this record. It’s also a peculiarity how it’s attracted so much overground attention, especially in the context of the Nyege Nyege roster, but Duma fully deserve it.

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Sun Sep 06 13:08:40 GMT 2020

The Guardian 80

(Nyege Nyege Tapes)
From Nairobi’s metal scene, Martin Kanja and Sam Karugu add techno to doom-laden guitars and distorted vocals on this exciting album

Alongside the burgeoning experimental electronic scene in east Africa is a small but committed underground of metal bands, based in Nairobi. These groups are breathing life into a field hampered by a continued lack of diversity and the preponderance of racist imagery.

Duma is released on Nyege Nyege Tapes on 7 August.

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Fri Jul 31 07:30:07 GMT 2020

Pitchfork 75

The Kenyan noise band’s debut is inventive and abrasive, a timely distillation of global chaos and techno-dystopian dread.

Fri Aug 07 05:00:00 GMT 2020

Angry Metal Guy 70

The self-titled debut by Kenyan duo Duma (meaning “darkness” in Kikuyu) is a most peculiar rara avis, carrying the sort of art difficult to distill into words, let alone narrow down to a single genre indicator. So while “grindcore” might be easiest to associate with the often rhythmically driven and dark work of Martin Khanja (aka Lord Spike Heart) and Sam Karugu, any expectations or points of reference go out the window within the first ten seconds of Duma’s opening track “Angels and Abysses.” Blast beats excavated from a 808 drum machine and possessed by impish demons, reverberating synths distorted beyond recognition, conga drum hits that drift between the synthetic and the organic, and a wave of angry gray noise all join to form a vast texture, a safety net of sorts, for Khanja’s floating screams, shrieks, and growls. This strange concoction sounds like someone’s hypnagogic idea of grindcore was deconstructed and then reassembled in dream space, making the cut follow along a staggered and staggering path. What’s real and what’s not becomes a pointless question here.

Equally indebted to various strains of metal and electronic music, from metalcore to EDM, Duma lives in all of these genres and none of them at all, combining and recombining their elements at will. On “Corners in Nihil,” bouts of the filthiest, harshest drones scrape against hard techno beats to create cracks of light. Then an apocalyptic narration works itself up into a brutal death growl, only to be washed away by the caustic inflection of power electronics. Meanwhile, an ominous fucking synth taken straight from a horror flick haunts the space between noises. Elsewhere, the heritage of (East) African music surfaces in full force. On “Omni,” trap beats accelerate to near singeli levels, evoking fellow Nyege Nyege artist Jay Mitta, and mesh with heady gqom and the manic energy of Indonesian duo Gabber Modus Operandi, into a nightmare vision of Igorrr‘s breakcore. Observed from afar, the piece’s jagged, misty edges might even resemble a perverted interpretation of atmospheric black metal, doused in gloom and broken up by circling four-on-the-floor rhythms.

Song after song, as abstract metallic constructs make way for inventive reinvention and recontextualization of electronic music ideas, Duma lingers with very down to earth sensations, with experiences that feel lived in and personal. Indeed, the duo construct their music around intimate and everyday yet never mundane themes. They frame narratives of Maasai coming of age traditions into pummeling grindcore invocations and chants on “Lionsblood.” Then turn to simultaneously humorous and sincere evangelism with “Pembe 666,” where a revolving drum pattern clicks like a typewriter stuck in an infinite loop and becomes a backdrop for a recitation of Revelation 5:61 in Swahili. Finally, they recall quirky, warm, and funny personal anecdotes on “Uganda with Sam,” accompanied by what in a different life could have been a melodic metal tune, but was destroyed by pointillist drum machines and undulating bass frequencies.

While at times a challenging listen, the album flows neatly between tracks, retaining the same level of idiosyncrasy from beginning to end. Throughout, they vary the vibe and energy from frenetic to introspective, and culminate with the faintly metaphysical, first quiet and brooding, then enraged “The Echoes of the Beyond.” And even if most cuts are able to stand on their own, some as tentative club bangers, Duma is best understood as a complete, alpha to omega experience, underlined by a dusky and dusty production.

Although Khanja and Karugu share a rich history in Nairobi’s budding metal scene—with bands such as Seeds of Datura, Lust of a Dying Breed, and Koinange Street Avengers—and are very well-read in terms of metal, punk, and hardcore traditions, encounters with experimental electronic collectives and musicians like Nyege Nyege and DJ Scotch Egg have proved similarly vital for Duma’s existence, gifting them the right frame of mind and freedom to create a music for the present and the future. Untethered and, above all, real. With Duma, they’ve fully succeeded. Or as Khanja put it in a recent interview, “It’s about going inside and bringing it out—putting our guts on the table. There’s no hiding. That’s the thing: you come to Duma you come to the fucking butchery.”

Rating: 3.5/5.0
DR: 10 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Nyege Nyege Tapes
Websites: duma.bandcamp.com | facebook.com/Duma
Releases Worldwide: August 7th, 2020

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Sun Aug 30 13:44:16 GMT 2020