The duo of Martin Kanja and Sam Karugu have made a name for themselves by adding electronic elements to the grindcore metal sound. They've now released a single on famed American label Sub Pop.
Duma make an uncompromising noise more likely to emanate from the British Midlands, where the rain mists over ugly industrial towns, than from the East coast of Africa. It's an angry and frustrated purge from a band that recently teamed up with Seattle's famous Sub Pop record label, home to Nirvana, Soundgarden, and Sonic Youth. To put it lightly, the local tourist board will not be soundtracking their adverts to Duma's last single "Cannis" — it's more 'Welcome to the Abyss' than 'Welcome to Kenya.'
Duma is the theatre of the ominous, channelling Ornette Coleman, Napalm Death, and their own inner demons. An expression of no restraints, they conjure up bad spells and bad luck, for all your setbacks, but it's the screams, the long tortured primal howls from unsettling depths that cause the most distress. As they reach your ears, it's hard to tell if they carry you out of the dark or if you are being sucked in. It's entrails unfolding into ecstatic hell. Foreboding tension, wildly unleashed as African rhythms are kidnapped and then tortured by a drum machine at speed. This is grindcore, Kenyan style. Extreme metal and hardcore punk, which has been the sound of disillusioned youth with nothing but contempt since the '80s, now gone electronic. Beyond the pantomime, a disturbing fight back in bloodied glee.
If you like machine-gun beats and the sound of animals being tortured, Duma will leave you feeling hit and left reeling. The music begs you to embody it through violent movement, for you to release all that should no longer be suppressed. It dares you to take it on.
On one hot night I got through to one half of the band, Martin Kanja, as Sam Karugu fired in his voice notes.
Image courtesy of Sub Pop/Nyege Nyege.
How long has the Kenyan grindcore scene been operating underground?
Kanja: From the 1980s until now, but it's music for our time. We make people feel free. Rock music has always been here in Kenya: Black Sabbath, Ngozi Family, and local bands like Last Years Tragedy. But it's Pig Destroyer, Repulsion, and especially Napalm Death's positive message and connection with their crowd that's a driving force for us.
Duma sound like a brutal attack, but against what?
Kanja: It's an attack against control, against any human being limiting another with ideas that stop you from achieving full potential. Our music allows you to be who you want to be and to stand for what you believe in. Falling in line sucks and one size does not fit all. Duma is about killing taboos. This is our secret society where I am accepted for who I am and there are others just like me. We cant change the political system but we create communities that can inspire people 1,000 years from now. It is entertainment, but the music at least carries the fingerprints of what we are struggling with and what we are going through together right now.
How is your energy received by the more traditional members of your community?
Kanja: It's demonic yeah (laughs). That's the reality. Kenya is still restrictive and conservative. If I walk down the street wearing a Cannibal Corpse T-shirt, people just say 'NO NO NO!' That's Christianity for you, but I have no desire to trash someone's religion or beliefs. Anger and frustration are not what people might expect from us — but when we watch TV or see what's popular we get bored and feel unrepresented. That's why I make hardcore shit; classic extreme music with my friends. We practice an extreme form of art and the authorities let us do what we want, but with Covid regulations... we will see what happens.
Image courtesy of Nyege Nyege.
How did you end up releasing a single on Sub Pop?
Kanja: The positive reviews for our debut album globally were crazy. We started to get a cult following from there and they ended up calling us to put out a single.
Karugu: The sound of Africa is weird now, especially in Uganda. I listen to Dinosaur Jr, Nirvana and a lot of bands on their roster are sick. I just love that we have something on Sub Pop.
Do you think Africa has even been robbed of expressing the darker aspects of our existence?
Kanja: Most of our cultures have been deleted, colonized, and fucked. The truth is that that when someone dies in our community we celebrate rather than cry but to control consumers in this system of Capitalism, we are made to cling on to something that is always going to pass. Anti-aging cream, new clothes... I prefer to be free and alive — and then one day say that this life I led was worth it.
What do your parents think?
Karugu: My family hates me for doing music and they think I'm gonna spiral out of control. Duma is everywhere now and they hate me for it. They hate my music, they've always hated it.
Kanja: My parents were working for The Ministry for Health and The Ministry of Public Works. I rebelled, and they felt I was lost but then having success changed that, so I'm happy I never listened to them. Nakura, where I grew up, has wild animals like rhinos and buffalo and I guess getting close to these animals helped me learn from them. Lions would come to the house but when they start eating people you have to kill them 'cause once they get a taste they won't stop. Humans are just too weak and too sweet.