Electronic music in Uganda is bigger than you thought

Electronic Music

Before we go any further, I’d like to clarify that I’ll be using the terms EDM & Electronic music to refer to House music, it’s respective subgenres such as (Afro, Tech, Progressive, Tribal etc.), Trance, Techno, Dance-pop, Synth-pop and other genres that are substantially related to/resemble or are derivatives of this kind of music.

Any debates on the classification and terminologies will be kept for another day, I just want you to know the kind of music I’m talking about when I use the collective term, and make it simpler to convey the message.

When you speak of Electronic music or EDM in Uganda, a lot of people will go like “hmm, white people music” or “who wants to jump and shout all night”. Many people feel like it’s not music that was really meant for Africans, that it’s just not our style. And the sentiment reflected in its consumption for a long time.

I remember circa 2009-10, when I was actively breaking curfew to “live life”, most of the DJs at the hottest nightclubs/bars/hangout spots at the time had very little or no Electronic music (or EDM-like music) in their sets. You occasionally heard Black Eyed Peas’ “I Got a Feeling”, Yves Larock’s “Rise Up” and Ke$ha’s “Tik Tok” and just a few other tracks.

One thing that was hard to deny was the way these tracks ignited the dance floor which was dominated by native Ugandans and took the energy to a whole new level, something that never really surprised me since good music is good music.

Inevitably, this music slowly caught on and over the years, the nightlife/party scene has started getting more and more of it. A lot of people have stayed in denial, claiming that it only thrives on people’s desire to have a momentary break from Dancehall when partying and that it is furthered by marketing gimmicks.

Well, I beg to differ. I am positive that Electronic music/EDM is the kind of music that undoubtedly has and deserves a space in the Ugandan urban music scene. Whether it’s the simple crossover pop hits, or the more sonically intricate and explorative stuff, this music definitely has its place here.

Since 2009, we’ve seen many artists, both the established mainstream ones and those that aren’t, dipping their toes into these waters. From Lilian Mbabazi’s “Kawa” and “Could It be you” to Ekky’s “Why Lie”, “Breaking Free” & “Do You Remember” or Big Tril’s “Jaba Shake” and Navio’s “Kata”, a lot of artists have put out music that is to some extent inspired/influenced by Electronic music and it has done quite well.

We’ve also seen a bevy of DJs pushing more of this music like Mister Deejay with the “Umlilo” tapes, ThaDropout’s “Sounds of the South”, “Jump & Shout” “Carnival Style” and “African Party” mix series later consolidated into “DancEvolution”, DJ Ciza’s “Welcome to my House”, not forgetting DJ Kasbaby & DJ Crisio too amongst many others.

The nightlife/party scene has also witnessed more theme nights at places like Big Mike’s, the now defunct Mish Mash, The Barn, Yujo and more. We’ve also seen festival/concert performances and other events that focus on Electronic music/EDM, not forgetting that Kampala has hosted acts like Liquideep and is set to host Mi Casa too very soon.

We are even at a point where the music is being fused with our native sounds to create an even more brilliant hybrid with DJs performing alongside percussionists plus other instrumentalists and dancers, and still getting people to dance for hours on end.

Electronic music, House and the sound in depth.

Now that I’ve talked about the basic stuff that the average mainstream music fan/client is more likely to pay attention to, let’s acknowledge the work of some of the acts that are closer to the core of the House movement and the advancement of the Electronic sound.

Before we proceed, here are a few excerpts from a conversation I had with our very own House wunderkind, Dark Meme on the use of the term EDM, a topic/discussion that I’ve for a long time tried to keep tabs on.

Electronic Music

From this and other pieces I read earlier, coupled with following the music for a while, it is my understanding that a lot of the staunch House lovers acknowledge to a considerable extent, the positive impact that Pop hits which draw ideas from the genre have.

However, the qualm is brought about by instances where some artists significantly deviate from the fundamentals/the core of what people have been trying to achieve with this sound, the things that initially drew people to the movement as a whole and water it all down in a bid to create something they feel is easier to “understand”/is more appealing to a wider audience, mainly in a bid to make a lot of money or because they never really had that true love for the music.

With that being said, there has been a lot of work towards the revival of the Electronic sound here in Uganda such as with the pioneer project, Hatari Voltage (Merlies Pilon, Gisa, Gregg, Chris & Ken) looking for unreleased/underground tracks from Uganda and elsewhere.

This project attracted a lot of people and rejuvenated rave culture, with new groups like Boutique Electronic, Valhalla, PressPlay, Gonja Crew and Trip Crew coming up. Then the Santuri project came in, fusing the electronic sound with traditional music from artists like Joel Ssebunjo, Annet Nandujja, Giovanni Kiyingi and more.

There have been a number of DJs involed in this particular movement here including DJ Rachael, Moroto Heavy Industries, Crisio, Vicky, Thomas, Phoebe, Kampire and TheWeezy to mention but a few. They have played at numerous events (sometimes alongside international acts) here including the Warehouse parties, Nyege Nyege festival, The Social, Pop Up after Kazi plus monthly and residency raves in Hollywood Bunga.

Despite the fact that we are talking about what’s happening in Kampala and Uganda mainly, it is only fair to recognize some of our exports in this field that include DJ Rachael for WOMEX ’16 and Dark Meme who has taken it as far as Groeing, Cape Town Electronic (twice consecutively) and the Berlin Red Rooms. There has also been a lot of exporting to Kenya in this field and other spots in East Africa.

Even without dominance on radio and TV, the artists are still expanding the movement with acts like Suraj under the Santuri project working on an EP with Da Capo (to be joined by Dark Meme in July to finalize it), along with a couple of other plans to host artists like Hyenah and other projects involving people like Jinku from Kenya.

I can’t mention everyone and everything going on but I’m sure this paints a good picture of how well these guys have most of the bases covered.

If you’re still doubting, check out the tracks, mixes, attend an event and see for yourself what this music does to the people. Keeping in mind that I’m only looking at the last 5 to 6 years, this music still has a long way to go but it’s very evident that it has made great strides (greater than many people notice) in the last few years.

Photo Credit: Photo4Fashion