Words by:
Photography: Louis Headlam
Styling: Anita Kevyn

Nsasi’s uncompromising club music is borne out of a necessity beyond simply making people dance – it is a beacon for shared worldviews, and a symbol of resilience

When Nsasi stepped on stage to close out the second night of experimental Madrid festival Electrónica en Abril, they were feeling nervous. It was just three weeks until the release of their debut solo LP Coinage, and they were performing a hybrid live and DJ set that would draw heavily from the new album, most of which had never been tested on a crowd.

As people filtered from other stages and venues into the La Casa Encendida’s high-ceilinged main room for the finale, Nsasi unleashed a relentless barrage of industrial percussion and wild, time-signature-warping polyrhythms. Dancers instantly took to the floor, never letting up until the final kick. “The line-up only had genre-bending artists,” Nsasi, real name Thomas Turyahikayo, recalls from Vienna over Zoom a fortnight later, in the middle of a European tour. “It wasn’t a festival where you felt like you needed to compromise your sound, and we just went on a journey into the unknown – I thought: ‘This is a special experiment.’”

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For Nsasi, that moment was freeing – but also gratifying. Coinage, released in May via Kampala’s Hakuna Kulala label, is their most expansive and personal solo work to date, with most of their previous releases coming as part of compilations or collaborations. It’s also their most challenging. Its nine bone-rattling tracks subvert many of dance music’s most established practices, with freeform percussive rhythms and chaotic track structures that break free from the 16-bar, build-up-then-drop formula that so many tracks are built from. Seeing people move to these club-unfriendly creations was validation for refusing to compromise their singular brand of experimentation.

Breaking norms is deep-rooted in everything Nsasi does, and who they are. As a young queer person growing up and attending a seminary school in the town of Kabale, in the deeply conservative western Ugandan region of Ankole, they had to find their own ways of expressing themselves. “Culture and tradition back home was never an accepting space for myself – because of my sexuality, of course – so I always thought I had to create a certain role to exist in these spaces, and for me it was always with music,” they explain.

Although Nsasi’s parents separated during their childhood, they introduced them to disparate musical styles from a young age. Nsasi’s father leant towards country and folk, but they found themselves more drawn to the rhythmic East African sounds their mother preferred – particularly Congolese Lingala music – which naturally revolved around celebration, community and dancing. “Being defiant for me started at an early age, from not being in sync with my father’s tastes [and] what my father wanted me to be,” says Nsasi, speaking in a soft and measured voice. As with their music, there’s deep thought and pointed intention behind everything they say. “It inspired me to always not be afraid of being different, so if I have to be defiant to stand my ground, I will push boundaries.”




In the mid-2010s, they relocated to Kampala, where they immersed themselves in the city’s burgeoning queer party scene that had begun to form around the experimental electronic music collective Nyege Nyege. It was an electric time, crackling with underground energy and surging with new possibilities. Eventually, they struck up a close collaborative relationship with similarly subversive artists Turkana and Authentically Plastic. In 2018, the trio formed their own collective and label, ANTI-MASS, and began to throw parties that sought to create safe, celebratory spaces for their community.

“We had been going to a well-known gay bar, but it was constantly raided by police,” Nsasi says. “This kept happening until we decided that we needed to start thinking about creating our own space. We started having nomadic parties, from house parties in people’s backyards, to venues beginning to host us for our events. It’s been really organic, but also based around the community.”

Created by queer artists for queer folk, those early ANTI-MASS parties were halcyon moments of self-expression for an LGBTQ+ community that has been heavily stigmatised, marginalised and oppressed in Uganda for decades. “That time was mind-blowing,” Nsasi remembers, their voice a rising tide of excitement. “The urge to exist in these spaces just increased how much enjoyment [we had], and there was so much awareness about things like safety.”

Facing the threat of police repression, or violence from outsiders misaligned with their values, the crew chose to carefully curate every detail of these parties – from the venues and homes they hosted events in, right down to the music. It’s how the uncompromising sound developed by Nsasi and the rest of ANTI-MASS was forged – borne out of a necessity beyond simply making people dance.


“[My music] is meant to attract an open-minded energy. The idea is to be able to sync in the same space”


“We knew what and who we didn’t want in the space, and, literally, the music itself helped with creating that environment because having a specific sound kept specific people out,” Nsasi says. “[The music] is meant to attract an open-minded energy, because you’re coming into this heavily experimental space and you expect to feel something and to have fun. The idea is to be able to sync in the same space, that’s why I choose the sound that I go for.”

Since then, the situation for Uganda’s LGBTQ+ community has become significantly more dangerous. In March 2023, the Parliament of Uganda passed the controversial Anti-Homosexuality Act, which reinforced the criminalisation of consensual same-sex relations (already illegal under colonial-era law). It introduced severe legislation that could see “LGBTQ+ activists” face up to 20 years in prison, and contains provisions allowing the death penalty for “aggravated homosexuality.” After being challenged by rights groups, the ruling was upheld by the Ugandan Constitutional Court in April of this year.

“The news made me feel stripped. I felt without soul. I felt empty. At the time, I was in Uganda and I remember wondering to myself, ‘30 years of my life I’ve been in this country and I haven’t lived anywhere else – this is home,’” they laugh nervously, as if they are still in shock. “The news reminded me and my collective to stop – like, we cannot be doing the work that we do. Redefining these possibilities has taken so much out of me.”

Over the past year, Nsasi has been moving between Uganda and the UK, where they have relocated “in exile” for safety, but those ties to home remain. “While not in Uganda I’ve been exploring how much resistance we can put out, and how much is even relevant at a time like this,” they sigh. “Sometimes I check in on my friends, and I cannot talk for the entire community, but things are so bitter – the fact that your landlord should evict you if you are queer, that leaves you with no roof over your head. The bare minimum. I think it’s going to happen in more African countries because, to me, this is a continuation of neo-colonialism.”


It’s in this bleak, heartbreaking context that Coinage was created. While some of the tracks date back to the end of 2019, when Nsasi first began producing electronic music, much of the project was finished while they were on the move. They didn’t have access to a studio, and the tracks were mostly made hunched over a laptop with headphones – which is wild to think, given the precision and layered complexity of the LP.

“It’s usually free-flowing for me,” they explain of their production process. “I’ll try and play around with melodies and synths to fit with the percussive pace and the rhythm, but it’s all ear-guided. I want to find that element of enjoyment and fun, but I want to bring up conversations like: ‘What was that?!’ I want people to ask questions about what that track they just heard meant.”

The album isn’t just meant to challenge us, or push music in new and exciting directions (though it definitely does that). With the situation that Nsasi and the Ugandan queer community find themselves in, each thudding kick, scatty synth line and intricate drum pattern is an expression of resistance. Like the menacing, rallying gqom cry of Tribune, or the urgent call-to-arms of Gabvla – all frantic, cathartic percussion that somehow comes together in a unified, four-to-the-floor techno stomp.

On Penetencia, the eighth and penultimate track on Coinage, the insistent volley of drums gives way to a moment of pad-filled dreaminess. It’s the most reflective track on the album, and provides a deeper look into Nsasi’s psyche. “In my local language, penetencia translates to penance, like [one of] the seven holy sacraments in the Bible. I have a background in the seminary and [the track] is retranslating my new way of seeing, and relating, with sound,” they say. “I see sound as a very big tool of resistance, if fully utilised.

“I have moments where I let things happen,” they continue. “But there is control in this chaos, and for me that is resilience. So most of my tracks are driven by that resilience, driven by that resistance, and driven by a very unconventional approach.”

Coinage is out now on Hakuna Kulala