Blog July 9, 2021
Nilotika Cultural Ensemble Brings Ugandan Roots to Reggae

It’s a gnarled cultural exchange but it goes something like this: In the 18th century, a warrior queen named Nyabingi was murdered in a royal dispute, and a religion formed in her honor, which inspired anti-colonial riots and led to a ban on drumming. In Jamaica, anti-colonialist Rastafarians, inspired by her story, name a mansion of Rasta after her, as drummers in East Africa, where Nyabingi ruled, learn via reggae music. The drummers are inspired to make a reggae with their own instruments and patterns mixed in with the Caribbean. The music sounds like it could be a folk tradition, but this is less “roots reggae” than a newly sprouted branch. Regardless of how you trace the lines, it’s clear Uganda’s Nilotika Cultural Ensemble has tapped into something powerful here.

Hear “Jajja Alimuffe,” from the Nilotika Cultural Ensemble, featuring lead vocals from Phitzo Kiganda, right here:

Grand, slow, and intricately constructed, “Jajja Alimuffe” was composed and directed by bandleader Jajja Kalanda. The group’s label, Switchstance Records, also released a video of the group working on the track a year ago, and the process looks just as idyllic as the results sound.

This is the first recording session for an African Nyabingi drumming session, and the ensemble is definitely fluent in global trends—incorporating hip-hop, new technology and a bedrock of Rasta cultural practices—into their locally and anciently informed practice. The recordings were made in 2019, and the release interrupted by something or other in 2020, so we’ve got our eyes peeled for the full release.

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