Interview: Track-by-Track with Duma on Their S/T Album

Duma means darkness. That is the first thing that vocalist Martin Khanja and producer Sam Karugu of the Kenyan noise and grindcore band Duma will tell you about their project, Duma. They released their self-titled album late last summer to enormous, international fan fair.

The second thing they’ll probably tell you about their band is that it is not normal. Grindcore is hardly known for it’s “normality” but Duma’s outrageous integration of industrial, trap, noisecore, and death metal seems at first to crazy to work, that is until you realize that you’ve compulsively hit play after listening to their entire record for the fourth or fifth time.

To help get our heads around their groundbreaking debut, we reached out to Duma for a brief interview and track-by-track breakdown of their record. You can stream their debut and read the whole interview below:

Responses recorded by Martin Khanja and Sam Karugu in September of 2020. The following transcript was edited slightly for clarity and brevity.

What does the title Duma mean? 
Sam: Duma means darkness in Kikuyu because we like dark music like metal and industrial, all this dark stuff. We like it, and we like making dark music, and the music is dark. So we thought Duma would be a good name.

Martin: Duma means darkness in Kikuyu, in the mother tongue and father tongue back in Kenya. It’s a good way to name the album because the band is called Duma also, and it’s our first album. It’s a good introduction. 

The cover of Duma is both very tranquil and very gnarly. Where was it taken, and what are you trying to say about the connection between humans and animals?
Martin: It was taken around on a street near our studio by our friend Lola while she was doing some shopping around there. It’s really cool to show the extremities of, like, how we are also animals, but we are also humans. We all have animal shit in us, like we sleep, we are hungry sometimes, sometimes we are cold, that same animal stuff that you go through, only that our intelligence is a bit higher is what makes us different from animals.

Also the cover, it shows that at the end of the day you’re still going to the butcher. The animals are going to end, their lives are going to end eventually. So the connection between human and animal is that we both die, and we both live. And the butcher is there waiting for both.

Sam: The thing was also not to have some normal metal album thing. The original thing was our friend wearing a snakeskin, this dress made out of snakeskin. And she would be standing there in the dark, and then just [the words] Duma behind her. But then we were like, “No, it is better if we just have a woman.”

It’s still very brutal, but it still doesn’t look like any normal metal thing. Like, let’s say the word “Duma” wasn’t written in a metal font, like if it were written in a normal font like Ariel Black. Then people would think that it is an African wild music album. That’s cool. It’s like Throbbing Gristle’s Jazz Funk Greats.

Most metal fans in the U.S. are probably not aware of what the metal scene looks like in Kenya and the rest of Africa. Could you sketch us a quick picture of what extreme music looks like on the continent and who the major players are?
Martin: The market in the U.S. and Europe is already saturated with metal, so they really don’t even need to venture to find other bands from around the world. But there is a lot of extreme music here since a long, way, way back in the day, like the early ‘00s and the ‘90s. Bands like Scarab, Displeased Disfigurement, Myrath, Crow Black Sky, Overthrust, you know, all these guys, Demogoroth Satanum.

It’s all very dark shit, and it’s crazy because all these bands come from all these places in Africa, and they still have the same kind of vibe of their music. It’s a very interesting force on Duma, cause this shit is all going on in Africa. If you live in one of the cities, it’s there!

Sam: There is a whole village of metalheads in Botswana.

Martin: It’s a whole town of metalheads man. In Botswana, it’s crazy.

Sam: I would say it’s way bigger in Southern Africa because they have a lot of bands like Overthrust and Skinflint. There are so many. There is Demogoroth Satanum doing black metal. What’s the pig guy’s name?

Martin: Crow Black Sky?

Sam: No, the guys who came to play Kenya. Pig…

Martin: Boargazm!

Sam: [Laughs] Yeah, Borgasm. Boargazm is there. There is also a huge punk scene here. But as you say, why don’t the labels go here? Even for me, I’m in Africa, and even for me the distribution here I think is fucked. To even get records or look for them is kind of … like I found a band from Ethiopia, Nishaiar. They do this kind of post-metal thing. And Ethiopia is near Kenya, but I had to go really deep into the internet to find them. But it’s there man, even I’m still discovering it.

Also, Arka’n from Togo. They’re really nice guys. Doing sort of an alternative metal thing. Scarab from Egypt. There are a lot of good things going on. But we need to spread it out more. More labels need to take interest and take it farther.

Why do you think it is that metal music in Africa rarely reaches the U.S. and the rest of the English-speaking world?
Sam: As I said before, but I think it is on us as well; we don’t take stuff and push music as far as we can. Smaller labels don’t have the power to push, not since Witchdoctor Records. Did Myrath get signed by Nuclear Blast?

Martin: Yeah, yeah.

Sam: Yeah, Myrath got signed. Myrath from Tunisia. But a bunch of bands, let’s say, if you’re from East Africa, don’t get signed. Labels don’t come around here.

Martin: The main problem is that there is not a good infrastructure for this kind of music in Africa. You know, like, the distribution is not that good. And these scenes are, like, far apart, and in-between. There is no centralizing these things and all that.

Most of the metal labels don’t put their tours to go through Africa. No one puts their tours through Africa. So I think that’s why the Western world doesn’t really get African metal. The infrastructure is not as good as the cities on their side, you know. But we release shit. It’s there, you know.

Sam: It’s good that some metal bands are finally starting to tour through Africa, you know? Through Hardcore Help Foundation. Some of them are more hardcore, others are more metalcore, or something. But at least you know that they are coming. Bands like Judas King, Stray from the Path, Stick to Your Guns. What is the one from the Netherland? All For Nothing. There are almost 13 bands who are regularly touring and coming here.

Duma, lets say, went on tour to Germany and Poland. And Overthrust played Wacken Open Air! And there are also bands going in and out who we don’t even know of. Oh! Skinflint went! Skinflint played in America. Yeah, so it’s showing. I think that these things just take time.

Has anyone challenged you on whether or not some of your influences, like Black Flag, Travis Scott, Bloodbath, and Throbbing Gristle, go together sonically or thematically? Or do people for the most part kind of get what you’re trying to accomplish?
Sam: Now Throbbing Gristle and Travis Scott, that would be the one that sounds very far out, but let’s say when you see videos like back in the early days when Throbbing Gristle had Genesis P-Orridge on the mic there jumping around, screaming his face-off, and just rapping or some shit like that, this was in ’79 and shit, and then there is a guy at the bar playing some electronic shit, it’s the same thing now with Travis Scott.

You have Travis Scott there jumping around, saying stuff, just being crazy like, “Yeah, yeah,” it’s like the same shit. So, I think that’s kind of funny, man. There are only two kinds of music. Pop music, which is metal, EDM, all that shit, it’s all pop music, and then there is the other, which is classical music and jazz. There is pop and then there is this academic music. But at the end of the day, it’s all just music. 

Martin: Yeah man, for the most part, they get it. Like, for example, on our album, some of the sounds are familiar, and some of the sounds are not familiar. The influences are across the board. The influences are everything you can think of: rock, metal, hip hop, spoken word, grind and breakcore, and African sounds, ethnic sounds, and all that.

And, for the most part, people get what we’re trying to accomplish, but they don’t get it at the same time. What we are doing is not normal. This way of making music is unconventional within the way that music is created and shaped. It draws a lot of people in now, though, because they are curious to see what kind of shit this is because they’re not understanding. But if you give it more listens, you get more. Like reading a book twice. So, what we’re doing, it clashes but it all still blends.

Hardcore punk and hip hop have more in common than I think most people realize. Would you care to elaborate on the overlap between these two scenes in your own experience?
Sam: Bands like Trash Talk are basically very hip hop. And the way that hardcore punk is sung, this fast singing, it’s basically like rapping. The scenes are overlapping more now than I remember they used to. I remember Thrasher Magazine did this thing, like, in Texas, they did like a show, and it was just trap bands and hardcore bands, and there were mosh pits for both. They were not even separated.

Martin: The main thing about those two genres that makes them so similar is their anti-establishment attitude. They want to fuck the world’s shit. And also the sound and the energy, man. They can be very heavy. Heavy as fuck, man. Same energy from both of them, though. And that’s what music is all about the energy. Now hip-hop artists are calling for mosh pits at their shows, but this has been happening at punk shows since the beginning of time. The youth now realize that. 

It’s all about the energy and the vibe. Like when we played in Berlin, most of the crowd there was like chilled out, but when we started playing like everything started happening, man. Headbanging. Moshing. Jumping up and down. The energy was crazy.

Sam: Like when we played “Crime is Poetry,” and at the same time, we played our more metal stuff, the vibe was the same.

Martin: When the borders open up, we’ll see what the mosh pits look like then.

Duma is a big step forward for you in terms of production quality and composition compared to what you were doing in your previous bands. Were you intimidated at all going into the album-making process, and did you have any reservations about it? 
Martin: Yeah man, I don’t want to put on this ultimate pose like, “Yeah, we had it all figured out!” No, it was really fucked up. It was really crazy. We never really knew the production side of it. So, we came with a producer here to record it at the label’s offices but after a few weeks, the producer had to go back home because he had to sort out some shit with his family, so he couldn’t stay with us. So, we had to do production on our own. We had to learn all this shit ourselves.

We didn’t know what to expect because we’re doing totally experimental shit. When you make albums back from where we come from, you know how all the parts will go together, what kind of direction it will have. Like, you do a metal album, “You sound like this”; “you go like this”; there are ways that you program and record it.

But with this album, we’re combining all these sounds and really going overboard with ideas. Stretching them as far as you can stretch them, you know. And we really did not know how it would be taken by people, even my friends, even me man. Even me myself, because we didn’t understand what the fuck we had made because it was cool, yeah, but it wasn’t like anything else that we had done.

So yeah, it was a bit, you know, crazy as fuck. We did all this new shit. We put all this stuff on ourselves, but what kept us going was the fun of it. It was so much fun man, making the album. Having ideas and next just making them happen. It was a bit taxing here and there, but it was fun.

Sam: I’m shocked that you think the production quality went up. Maybe the composition, but the production, not really. Before, when we were producing Obsidian … like, I come from a sound-for-film perspective, and I was finishing school; I was looking for an internship that I didn’t get, but this is the path that I had, sound for film. Also a little production from when I was with Powerslide and Seeds of Datura (Martin and Sam’s former band), and stuff like this.

So, I would say, intimidated at all? For me, kind of yeah, because our producer left. But not really, because even when we are playing in Obsidian, we would just, like, jam, and we never really recorded a lot of stuff. We would just record audio. There is not a lot of production when it comes to mixing and mastering. But, this was now the whole thing. And a lot of midi shit. But thanks! I’m actually shocked that you think this, but thanks!

How can people learn more about the metal that is coming out of Africa? Is there anyone making noise on the continent that you’d want to shout out?
Martin: Yes, I would make them look for this book written by Edward Banchs called Heavy Metal Africa. It was released like two years ago; anyway, he came to Africa and went around to different countries interviewing different African bands; that’s the best. That’s the best documentation of heavy metal in Africa that’s been seriously written down.

Also, there are sites that cover metal in Africa. For example, Metal 4 Africa in South Africa, there is also Audio Inferno; you can also check out Heavy and the Beast. Our friends run a magazine out of there; HATB covers all these new things and all of this crazy shit that’s happening. And I say, bands like, for real Arka’n! They make some really crazy music! They are from Togo, and they are crazy motherfuckers. I love their music!

I would also recommend this band Overthrust. They are awesome as fuck! Also these guys called Nishaiar from Ethiopia. They do some crazy, post-metal shit, man. But just heavy as fuck, bro. And big ups to the people in this band, Zombies Ate My Girlfriend, also from South Africa. They are some heavy shit. Last Years Tragedy are doing some great shit. Also this band Chovu. Chovu are sick as fuck; they do black metal; they are from Kenya.

Sam: Just check out the mix we did for NTS.

Martin: Oh yeah, check out NTS. All of those bands are on NTS Radio. Yeah, heavy Kenyan shit. But, if you follow Metal 4 Africa you’d be fine, Heavy and the Beast, you will find all these other serious, hardworking metal bands man.

To give you a sense of Sam and Martin’s personalities, the track-by-track portion of the interview is taken directly from the recording that they made for this interview last September and divided by track.

Duma Track-by-Track

1. “Angels and Abysses” – There are a lot of sharp tones and disorienting sounds on this track. Were the sounds here mostly made using your laptop or are there live instruments too?

2. “Corners in Nihil” – Where is Nihil? What are the corners like there?

3. “Omni” – The trap beat on the latter half of this one is very tasty; has anyone reached out to sample it for their own project?  

4. “Lionsblood” – There is some kind of a ritual going on in the music video for this song; could you unpack the visuals for our readers?

5. “Uganda with Sam” – You sound very inebriated on this track. Leads me to wonder, what’s the drunkest you’ve ever been? Do you have any tips for curing hangovers? 

6. “Kill Yourself Before They Kill You” – The percussion on this track is absolutely additive. A next level grind beat in my opinion.

7. “Pembe 666” – Who is speaking on this track and what are they saying? 

8. “Sin Nature” – I’m guessing that your music causes you some conflicts with the Christian elements in Kenyan society. What is your relationship with religion and does this relationship impact your music at all? 

9. “The Echoes of the Beyond” – This track has a very different feel, even for an album as eclectic as Duma. Who are some of the specific influences on this track? I’m hearing some Biran Eno. Is there any Brian Eno here?

Thanks for the interview Duma!

Photo courtesy of Duma.

Buy Duma’s self-titled album from Nyege Nyege Records here.

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