“Unleash The Chaos!” DUMA’s Caustic Noise Breaks Past Boundaries

Clash meets the remarkable Kenyan duo...

DUMA, a duo hailing from Nairobi, have seen their caustic self-titled debut album launch to collective interest from both musicophiles and mainstream press earlier this month.

The album, out on the ingenious Nyege Nyege Tapes of Kampala, struck with a collection of tracks hard to categorise within simple genre-defined conventions. So uniquely characterised in fact, that the current musical landscape has been jolted out of its mid-summer torpor and excitedly welcomed this refreshing storm from Kenya.

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“It’s crazy how much attention the album is getting. I am deeply humbled,” says Sam Karugu, the production half of DUMA. “It’s resonating well, especially with the electronic and noise fans and anti-music circles. It’s not well-received I guess maybe by hardcore metal circles, especially with those back home in Kenya. They don’t listen to much experimental electronic music and think that electronic music is just Avicii or David Guetta or something, and mixing it with metal is Haram”.

And although, as they note, this surge in attention may have not been all positive, it has generated new members of what Martin Kanja AKA Lord Spike Heart, vocals, would rather describe as “family” than a fanbase. “It was so great to go from almost unknown to random strangers shouting about previous shows in the streets of Berlin,” Karugu adds, reminiscing DUMA’s recent solitary beginnings, playing grindcore sets in Kampala on Thursdays, with Kanja and their friend Mael Luiz on drums, in places where metal was almost non-existent.

This was perhaps a stark contrast to their Kenyan musical upbringing, which fostered a varied music scene that informed both of their influences, taking cues especially from the metal, punk, rock and electronic local scenes. “I started following the scene when I was in high school, back in 2006, 2007. Everyone does something different, and it’s so interesting, it’s so diverse and there’s almost anything you might want sonically,” Kanja adds.

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Moving to Uganda however vastly exposed the pair to a lot of experimental electronic music and traditional African music, with horizons being expanded even further thanks to their link to Nyege Nyege Tapes, with artists from all around the world coming for residencies and the label releasing unconventional and left-field African artists.

The duo got together, eventually forming and recording as DUMA, after Kanja invited Karugu to record at the Nyege Nyege Studios in Kampala, having had the label poach Karugu after being hooked to one his previous bands, Lust of a Dying Breed.

“Kanja wanted me to go with him because he knew I was already doing production and playing bass in bands. I was also heavily getting into synthesizers and electronic music production at the time,” Karugu recalls, listing a number of artists, including Gabber Modus Operandi, HDMIRROR and Amnesia Scanner, amongst those who at the time inspired the idea of cross-contaminating metal and electronic music.

Both praise their time recording the album and working with Nyege Nyege Tapes, who nurtured and allowed the duo to peer deep into their diverse musical abysses to “unleash the chaos”.

In fact, true to their motto of exploring, producing and releasing outsider music from Africa, Nyege Nyege Tapes has perhaps most of all succeeded in having DUMA not just be another band “ignored by most labels and then having to release independently and then getting lost to obscurity on the internet somewhere” as Karugu puts.

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It is hard however to imagine that an album such as DUMA’s could ever be ignored. Many of the tracks, inspired by the duo’s adventures, and described by Kanja as scores, feel like a perfect amalgamation in which the harsh sounds seep so thickly into each other that it’s hard to distinguish what could be a live recording and what is pure electronic exploration.

“Being in a studio suited mostly for club and electronic music really got us thinking outside the box. The idea was to create hybrid music that didn’t sound cut and paste but rather organically blended in all types of sounds” Karugu explains. “For example, for some of the drums we would use field recordings, while in others we’d use drum samples of Ugandan and Kenyan percussion drums played as midi, and for blast beats, which normally would be played by a drummer on a drum set, we used 909 and 808 sample kits in Ableton.” As such, guitars lose their lead instrument status, instead being used as texture, percussions or noise instruments, adding to the disorderly mix.

Each track, they both recall, has been gradually layered and revised up to ten times, and features three separate drum sets carefully interplaying at the same time. There is an attention to detail that is fed by DUMA’s desire for permanency: “We are here for a short time and then we go. So, let’s leave something that’s more than us, for the next generations. If you get into that vibe and you know yourself, you can fully express yourself and you can have a positive impact on someone, inspire people all over the world, by doing what you love and making a connection with someone,” Kanja explains.

The vocals, death growls in Swahili, also add to the rich tapestry of the tracks, offering recitations of Revelations, angels singing and demons groaning, but also more mundane and ordinary stories of self-introspection in the life of a young metalhead. Kanja adds: “With the lyrics that I write, it’s mostly about real life, stuff that I’ve gone through. Even if you’re in Japan, Argentina or Brazil you can relate to it because it’s real life.”

Karugu recommends reading the lyrics on Bandcamp if this sounds too obscure. Kanja recalls: “We would take walks from the studio, get into the streets, would meet lots of people and hear their life stories and relate to them. It’s all about translating life for what it is, no filter, not diluting it”.

The album’s opulence in sound results in a simpler live setup. A sound card, laptop, midi controller and a mic for Kanja is all they need, and their live shows have already been praised by many. “The music is already chaotic, so we try to keep it simple as fuck. We need the crowd, the vibe and a good night, that’s all. We are there, the crowd is there and we share that energy, tap into it and connect with it” Kanja says. And, looking at less pandemic-struck times, he foresees future shows that will have “more energy, more moshpits, more crazy shit and more stage dives. Chaos man”.

The duo has an album in the works with Gabber Modus Operandi, which should see the light of day in early 2021. There are also talks of a follow-up to this much talked about debut, with big ambitions, Kanja adding: “The next album will be totally its own thing and I want to get deeper into this sound we’ve explored on the DUMA album. This sound is interesting to me. It’s like albums possess us and make themselves through us through the creative process. We should be starters of new genres”.

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DUMA's debut album is out now.

Words: Melanie Battolla

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