Duma – Duma Review

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

Show 1 footnote

  1. Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders. The Lamb had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth.
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