A genre-defying Afrofuturist manifesto from Uganda.
Producer, dancer and choreographer Faizal Mostrixx’s singular vision of East African electronic music is a lush sonic tapestry of polyrhythms, modern dancefloor styles, amapiano, Nile basin ceremonial chants and Pan-African field recordings.
A stalwart of the explosive Kampala electronic music scene Mostrixx has collaborated with the Nyege Nyege collective appearing at both the African and European editions of their festival.
Mutations is Faizal’s second full length album, following close on the heels of his acclaimed EP Transitions (May 2022 / Glitterbeat). In their review of Transitions, The WIRE noted: “If today’s currents in East African electronic music have a more mainstream destiny, this might be how it starts.”
‘Afrofuturism is a way to describe the meeting of the electronic and the tribal. It’s about bringing the past into the now and then imagining how it could be expressed in the future’
— Faizal Mostrixx
From a Western perspective, Afrofuturism is having a moment¬ ― but that’s what it is, a Western perspective that grants a certain neat status to what it sees on the concert stages of its own continents. Afrofuturism has always been there, driven by the encounter between traditional roots sounds and the possibilities afforded by each new generation of technology. A style, yes, but more than that an imperative, a state of mind, perhaps even a state of emergency.
The title of the record, Faizal Mostrixx’s first full-length release for Glitterbeat, is a good place to start, as it was with his debut release for the label, last year’s Transitions EP: the state of becoming, of ‘being between’ that is key to the Afrofuturist project. There’s always convergence too, which in his case is between music and the performing arts. He is first and foremost a dancer, but one who has found time to absorb a full range of global electronic music styles along the way, after a solid grounding in older sounds. Early on his mother would take him to practice stations, which featured groups of mostly female traditional dancers accompanied by live percussion, singing and dancing, while his father was a truck driver who would bring home CDs and cassettes of traditional and pop music, mostly from Kenya and Congo. As Mostrixx puts it, ‘I started with dancing before making music. I experimented a lot with different styles for performances. Hip-hop, urban styles, dubstep, techno. Later I started producing my own stuff.’
Musically, his expression builds first on a Ugandan heritage, particularly its varied rhythmic patterns and the specific style of music played at the kadodi, an ancient circumcision ceremony that Mostrixx describes as being ‘about a tribe creating this energy of bravery to get into a trance.’ These antique local rhythm patterns are balanced with influences from further afield: downtempo, deep and Afro House elements melded with sub-heavy dub, footwork and amapiano, East and South African polyrhythms, modern urban styles, and age-old chants from the Nile Basin. Horizons are further expanded with field recordings from Uganda, Congo, Ethiopia and Tanzania, some by Mostrixx and others, from the 1950s, taken from the International Library of African Music. They are intricately interwoven into the sonic fabric of the record.
This cultural Pan-Africanism should not obscure the fact that Faizal Mostrixx is very much an artist who traces a trajectory of his own, one that transcends the bedroom-producer ethos and dancefloor-ready functionalism of much contemporary cutting-edge electronic music. Mutations is above all a piece of work that feeds on the creative friction between different musical forms spanning various African regions and histories, but with the artist’s own character and interests very much out front.
The record features Lesothian artist Morena Leraba in imperious form on ‘Loosely’, chants by the influential Ugandan singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Giovanni Kiyingi, and a restless exploration of rhythm and tempo throughout, whether on dancefloor bangers like ‘Tunes of the Jungle’ and ‘Back to Tanzania’ or the more downbeat ‘Afro Aliens’. ‘Onions and Love’, the opening track, is built around a beautiful acapella by Kebenesh, a lady who chops onions at the restaurant of the Alliance Ethio-Française in Addis Ababa, whom Mostrixx recorded in an impromptu studio. ‘She’s singing about a lost lover she’s looking for in the city,’ he recalls. ‘She didn’t speak English, we communicated through body language and other people. I find this kind of collaboration beautiful.’ What he manages to do to superb effect throughout, in a series of mostly four-minute tracks, is push outwards to create a sense of epic yet still intimate space ― further proof of the fruitful feedback loop of choreography and music that makes this record so enjoyable.
For audiences outside Africa, or perhaps more especially those who have grown up with a certain ‘African sound’, the new electronica emerging from cities like Kampala is something of a shock. Good: that’s the point. The stasis that some yearn for is useless to Africa’s musicians, and Faizal Mostrixx shows no sign of standing still.
‘We’re always transforming into something. The universe is also always mutating. The weather, the moon, the seasonal changes, new viruses. Mutation is life, basically. Having all these fragments, I like putting them together, imagining life further ahead, creating this world of Afrofuturism’