WaqWaq Kingdom Essaka Hoisa

[Phantom Limb; 2019]

Rating: 3.5/5

Styles: public service announcement, gagaku, footwork
Others: Bamba Pana, Emamouse, TNGHT

Essaka! Hoisa!” “Essaka! Hoisa!

Analogous to a heave-ho, a sound off, or even a well-timed eskeetit, the Japanese chant signifies collaboration and perseverance. It’s usually associated with the heavy lifting done by litter-bearers who transport humans or large religious shrines mounted on bamboo poles, but its unifying and cathartic force extends even further than physical work.

Essaka Hoisa is the titular rallying cry of Waqwaq Kingdom’s sophomore album, which offers a new set of chants to help us shoulder the more abstract burdens of a post-industrial society: grief, ecological anxiety, greed, and the disconnect between physical and spiritual personhood. For obstacles that seem insurmountable when faced alone, Essaka Hoisa extends a call for listeners to respond to.

Comprised of dream-reggae singer-songwriter Kiki Hitomi and chiptune/breakcore producer Shigeru Ishihara (a.k.a. DJ Scotch Egg), the Berlin-based duo has forged a club-ready sound that shatters the space-time continuum. Essaka Hoisa seamlessly bridges traditional Japanese folk art with trap, footwork, and even the breakneck polyrhythms of East African singeli (Ishihara performed at this year’s Nyege Nyege festival in Uganda). The record is jarringly idealistic, but the energy of its uplifting, globalist sentiment is undeniable.

Opener “Mum Tells Me” wastes no time easing the listener into WaqWaq Kingdom’s eccentric aesthetic. Following an introductory synth riff that wouldn’t feel out of place on a Slugabed record, the track plunges into a bass drop laden with clanging percussion and dissonant squeaks, sneakily morphing into a chaotic footwork groove as Hitomi raps about her family’s penchant for superstition and myth.

“Mermaid, Werewolf, Unicorn, Dragon, Nessie, Yeti, Pixie, Leprechaun,” she spits, as if writing a magical realist reprise to Jay-Z’s much-meme’d “Monster” verse. “Don’t kill mythical creatures. They are modest teachers.”

WaqWaq Kingdom’s embrace of mythos is much deeper than their surface-level eccentricity suggests. Hitomi connects the track to the recent death of her mother and father in the record’s liner notes, ruminating on her family’s love of the supernatural and her efforts to pass it on to her own daughter. “My mum, pup, grandma — they all live within me,” she writes.

Essaka Hoisa adopts a largely didactic tone for the rest of its runtime, railing against human apathy in the face of environmental decay. Following recent efforts by Matmos and Emamouse, it’s the latest installment in a recent influx of ecologically-themed electronic records, taking aim at the first world’s indifference toward food waste. Japan throws away 19 tons of it every year. It accounts for 40% of the total food produced in the United States.

“Doggy Bag,” propelled by a bass-y tribal house loop, is an ode to leftovers, referencing an old public service announcement while pitting polemic rhyms against humanity’s unquenchable thirst for more. “Itadakimasu” (“thanks for the food”) is an even harsher critique of consumption, opening with the assertion that ”behind every food there is dead,” as dizzyingly-panned percussion envelops the mix.

Despite WaqWaq Kingdom’s eclectic blend of sounds and oddly specific lyrical tangents, the quirkiness comes off as natural. Tracks like “Third Eye” and “Warg” are danceable above all, serving up enough punch to earn self-indulgent asides like “Medicine Man,” a 10-minute psychedelic jam session, and “GaGa Qu,” an eerie take on ceremonial court music that could pass as a deconstructed club track.

The duo puts fun first on Essaka Hoisa, toying with unconventional concepts in a way that’s never overtly academic. Like its namesake, the record’s meaning lies in its abstract expressions of joy or rage or conviction, so sincere you’d mistake it for silliness.

Most Read