Nkisi is an artist with bold ideas, both in and outside the studio. She is a former member and co-founder of NON Worldwide, a self-described "collective of African artists and of the diaspora, using sound as their primary medium, to articulate the visible and invisible structures that create binaries in society, and in turn distribute power." Her music is informed in part by her research in psychoacoustics, the scientific study of how humans perceive and respond to sound.
"The beauty of music is that it's like liquid architecture," she recently told Tiny Mix Tapes. "You can create landscapes, travel through different places, etc... You can share a lot in happiness, but you can share more in darkness. I've always been more interested in the latter."
Nkisi was born in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, raised in Belgium and currently lives in London. Her music bears the mark of each of those places. It takes inspiration from the musical and spiritual traditions of the Congo, in particular Bantu cosmology. Her drum and synth sounds often echo the trance and gabber she heard at raves in Belgium. The final product, a rule-breaking style of techno that feels right at home in London. These threads come together more than ever before on 7 Directions, a polyrhythmic techno LP on Lee Gamble’s UIQ label, dedicated to a leading scholar of Bantu cosmology, Dr Kimbwandende Kia Bunseki Fu-Kiau.
Concert Performance: 7 Directions
7 Directions is a stark exercise in rhythm and atmosphere, delivered in seven unnamed tracks. On each one, blunt drum loops are layered into shuddering polyrhythms, while more ambient sounds drift around them, forming shimmering, mirage-like structures. The trance and gabber influences of Nkisi’s past records are much subtler this time around, perceptible only the in the sheer urgency of the drums. The mood varies from track to track—some sinister, others soothing, all of them a bit haunting, touched with a sense of cosmic gravitas.
Nkisi’s music is often dubbed “experimental club,” and to some extent it is precisely that: rhythmic music made for club soundsystems that tests the boundaries of what club music can be. The problem with that term is it seems to describe something coldly conceptual, more dedicated to ideas of music than music itself. Nkisi’s music is guided by her research in psychoacoustics and Bantu cosmology. But it’s also an authentic reflection of the artist herself, shaped by her experiences and unique personal history. 7 Directions is a starkly original vision of techno. But its human element is what brings it to life.