Afrorack - The Afrorack
"For a human being to be fully functional, it has to have a brain that's working and eyes and ears and arms," says Ugandan synth builder and producer Brian Bamanya, aka Afrorack. "Which is the same with the modular synthesizer: you have an oscillator, a VCA and all these envelopes. For it to create something meaningful, everything has to work together to create harmony." Bamanya is responsible for building Africa's first DIY modular synthesizer, a huge wall of home-made modules and FX units that he dubbed, fittingly, The Afrorack. His reason for embarking on this difficult project was simple: as he began to investigate the world of modular synthesizers, he realized it would be difficult to acquire the technology in Uganda. Not only were there relatively few retailers across the whole of Africa, but the modules were often prohibitively expensive. After quick search online, Bamanya realized he could easily download circuit diagrams and buy the required parts locally, so he taught himself electronics and constructed a CV-controlled system that's been evolving ever since. "The Afrorack" is Bamanya's debut album and displays the producer's untethered creativity and restless energy. He's all too aware that these modules were developed with European and American musical styles in mind, so developed his own musical methodology and language to coax the system into suiting his needs. His starting points are often abstractions of acid and techno, but Bamanya curves East African rhythms and different scales into these familiar structures, splintering them into fractal shards. "I believe Africa is at that point where people are getting new tools which were not available to them, and then experimenting with them in a different context, because Africa has its own traditional music," he told Pan African Music back in 2019. This attitude is most evident on 'African Drum Machine', where Bamanya uses a Euclidean rhythm sequencer to divide his CV signals into complex algorithmic patterns that mimic the polyrhythmic structures that exist in many East African musical forms. If you're not listening closely it might sound like 4/4 techno, but focus your attention and you'll hear different layers of drums and jagged oscillators bouncing between each other creating hypnotic new rhythms. Bamanya takes a similar approach on 'Why Serious', fuzzing dubby basslines and plasticky percussive sounds into a frenetic hybrid of abstract electronics and fwd-thinking East African club sounds. At times, Bamanya's meditative, bass-heavy compositions echo the psychedelic sounds of Shackleton or Adrian Sherwood's African Head Charge, particularly on tracks like 'Inspired' and 'Last Modular'. With lysergic tonal shifts and precision-engineered drums, both tracks sound defiantly metallic, but sculpted by a producer who's always completely in control as he introduces risky eccentricities like feline groans and videogame blips. And on less beat-heavy tracks like 'Osc' and 'Rev', Bamanya makes a conscious nod to the history of modular music, approaching the kosmische universe of Popol Vuh, Klaus Schulze and Emeralds, augmenting it with East Africa's idiosyncratic rhythmic intensity. "The Afrorack" is the beginning of a conversation that's been long overdue.