Nazar Guerilla Hyperdub
While Angola’s 27-year civil war officially ended in 2002, its effects are still felt daily by those living there. Income disparity in the country is extreme: the majority of Angolans survive on just $2 a day, and yet the country also boasts the perverse accolade of producing ‘Africa’s richest woman’ – Isabel dos Santos, daughter of former ruler José Eduardo Santos – who made headlines earlier this year after prosecutors asked her to explain where exactly she got all her money from. Over 100 million square metres of land in the country remain contaminated by landmines. And despite the 2002 ceasefire, fighting is ongoing in the oil-rich exclave of Cabinda.
It’s this brutal reality, and that of the war itself, that Angolan producer Nazar aims to illustrate with his music. Now based in Manchester, having moved from Belgium, he coined his own ‘rough kuduro’ descriptor as a means of distancing his work from the otherwise upbeat, dance-focused rhythms of Angola’s homegrown pop music. He deploys antagonistic combinations of blissful field recordings (birdsong, waterfalls) alongside unsettling reversed vocal samples, bursts of white noise, distorted blips, and jagged rhythms that stumble drunkenly over themselves. This is not easy listening by any means.
Like 2018’s Enclave, which focused on the events of the civil war, Guerrilla is a tense affair. Based on his father’s 2006 memoir, Memorias de Um Guerrilheiro, as well as conversations they shared while driving through Huambo and Luanda, Nazar recreates scenes from the war and its latent aftermath in complex sonic collages. As such, uneasy contrasts abound. On Retaliation, icy rave synths slice through the chatter of tropical birdlife and a looping Ovimbundu folk song, while Diverted hikes up the tension with flashes of noise mimicking gunfire. Then there’s the disorientating swirl of organic, synthetic, and somewhere-in-between sounds on Immortal, recalling hazy rebel ceremonies in which witchcraft was used in an attempt to imbue fighters with superhuman abilities.
Some respite – cause for hope, even – comes in the album’s softer moments. Album closer End of Guerrilla reflects on the elation that followed the end of war: a warm low end refigures theghostly synths that have spliced the album to this point, before disembodied calls of “yeah” trail off into a chorus of birdsong. And on Mother, Nazar’s mother recounts leaving home as a teenager to fight for the rebels. Here the plush synths, harmonised vocals and ambient field recording make the track feel more like a cathartic requiem than a grieving for lost time. It’s a fitting close to a record that, in demonstrating the power and importance of remembrance, holds a mirror up to the present and asks what the future should look like too.