Nkisi Kill

[MW; 2017]

Styles: Afro house, gabber, trance, techno, music
Others: NON Worldwide, N.A.A.F.I, Elysia Crampton

“The nkisi has life; if it had not, how could it heal and help people? But the life of an nkisi is different from the life in people. It is such that one can damage its flesh (koma mbizi), burn it, break it, or throw it away; but it will not bleed or cry out… nkisi has an inextinguishable life coming from a source.”
– Nsemi Isaki, 1900

Nkisi makes objects, not tracks. Her music is densely layered and tightly crafted. Its rhythms whorl, its textures mutate. Existing in a state of constant change, these objects shape and reshape themselves, drawing heterogenous sounds and syncopations into their orbits, like nails driven into wood. Kill is Nkisi’s first collection of music to receive a physical release, although the sounds contained within seem intent on transcending the limits of their vessel.

These things cover an immense amount of ground, stylistically and rhythmically, journeying through landscapes pockmarked by afro house, techno, gabber, and trance. As they go, they agglomerate new elements consistently and non-linearly, each part adding a new facet, a new optic, a new dimension. “Kill” places polymorphic drums alongside mechanized, precise claps and bass to form an airtight percussive chassis. Giddy tones cascade over its rhythms, taking on various forms: disembodied voices, placid melodies, ominous pulses. Like a mix, these objects transform, passing through phases, their emotional tenor shifting from the tranquil to the ecstatic, hopeful to mournful.

“Can You See Me” has a Neptunesian slur to its beats, its curt hi-hats and hollow bass hits intermingling with languid melody and clipped, sampled voices. It juxtaposes the taut and the fluid, playing with time, the rigidity of its hats washing against the gossamer flow of the synth. The fuzziness of its temporalities — the ways in which they bleed together and split apart — endow the track with a hazy looseness, producing small pockets of space for trills, coos, and chimes to take up residence in between its rhythmic structures.

This is music for CDJs, its tempos malleable, its movement across styles modular. No sound is off-limits. In this way, it reads like a dancefloor-oriented version of Elysia Crampton’s epic collage, retaining that approach’s genre agnosticism while taking care to ensure that its tracks comport themselves properly for the dance floor. “MWANA” brings forward the high-energy trance ‘n’ gabber stylings of her The Dark Orchestra mix, its piston-like percussion washing over the listener, as great waves of sound build deliriously, caustic and lambent. Almost conversely, “Parched Lips” reads as a stylized take on afro house, its edges marked by a rave-y afterglow. It breathes, edges expanding and contracting, bringing in punch-drunk wheezes one moment, mbalax-type drums and quasi-new age keys the next, all while retaining a streamlined force and momentum.

Kill is music as sonic ecology, a drawing together of complex things, each one infused with liveliness and touched by the grain of history. Like the objects from which she takes her name, Nkisi’s music is marked by movement — across space, time, and culture. It is a sonic manifestation of the exchange of sounds and bodies across the Atlantic. Deathly and vibrant. Ghostly music for a haunted world.

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