DJ Kampire: Untold freedom for women & queer Africans

DJ Kampire is a leading figure in the Ugandan scene, known internationally for her mixing of treasures of dance, electro and traditional genres from the African continent.

She also has another background in writing and performance and is a key figure of the Nyege Nyege DJ collective and label. Her enthusiasm for mixing diverse beats is palpable in her sets, and she is a driving force in Ugandan electronic music’s current boom, not to mention her international appeal. Just last year, Kampire performed sets at clubs and festivals all over Europe and the Uk, the United States, Canada, South America and Asia (Red Bull, Melt and Sonar, to name a few) as well as Boiler Room sets for Nyege Nyege’s own festival in Kampala, Uganda.

Guided by a pure and infectious love for music, her work has created an enchanted home for queer expression on dancefloors worldwide and she has been described as the “Crown Jewel of The Kampala Scene”. Kampire is a believer in the transformative power of the rave. Here she talks to Caoimhe Lavelle, Resident DJ at The Demented Goddess, about the power which she holds in her hands.

The Demented Goddess: I have heard your sets described as connecting the dots between past, present, and future of African Club music. I’d also say that you have an inclusively outsider approach. How is underground culture, and African dance, shaping the future?

Kampire: I think the underground is where young people push the boundaries of what is possible, and where they create the world they wish to live in. In Kampala for example, the underground is where ‘alternative’ genres are explored by both artists and the audience (and when I say alternative I mean anything that’s not pop, Afrobeats or dancehall, so a pretty wide net). Artists who operate outside of commercial genres also deserve to be heard and to make a living of their work, a concept that is especially constrained in African economies. The fact that it is the Kampala underground that’s proving that this is possible makes me proud to be a part of it.

Underground culture is also where young people experiment with and express their identity outside of what our conservative, neo-colonised society allows. These “experiments”, in fashion, art, music are setting trends globally.

DG: The Nyege Nyege collective name translates as “the sudden, uncontrollable urge to dance”, a term which also seems befitting of your sets. What transformative powers does the rave, this euphoric force, have for you?

Nyege Nyege is not a concept that I thought to put into words before I got involved with the festival, but of course there’s a word for it in the Luganda language! I’ve come to understand the power of the rave to bring people together who may not have considered themselves community, bound by that urge to get on the dancefloor and express the feeling the music has placed in your body. The rave can represent untold freedom for women and queer Africans, whose identity is heavily policed. I’m a bit of an introvert, so being able to dance and communicate with others in the darkness of a dancefloor is a special pleasure that helps me feel connected to others. Nyege Nyege is magic basically.


“The rave can represent untold freedom for women and queer Africans.”

DG: One thing I love about your sets is how much fun you are having in the flow of your set, and the energy.

Do you ever find it challenging to balance the discovery of so many diverse beats and knowing them thoroughly but also not wanting to ‘wear’ them out? Your stamina is obvious from watching your sets, but is it ever a challenge to keep that feeling, playing the prolific amount of sets that you do?

When I hear a new track that I love and want to play out, I feel it in my body and I just want to share that excitement with others (in the right context and over an impeccable soundsystem). Sometimes DJing is holding onto that feeling long enough, through the 50 – 500 listens it takes to know the track well enough to deliver it to your audience in the best possible way. I’m not sure if that makes sense to anyone but me.

Sometimes by the time I’ve played a track enough times to cue it absolutely perfectly and at the right time in a set, I’m a bit tired of the song and I worry that I’ve played it too many times and the audience is sick of it too (though in polling my non-DJ friends, this is never actually the case, few people are paying attention to that obscure drum track that you love and counting how many times you’ve played it). The best thing about music is that when you put a song away for a year or a few, that feeling comes back like it’s brand new, or even stronger because it is tied to all the nostalgia and memories you made with it the first time around.

DG: As well as legendary parties and festivals, Nyege Nyege collective is also a label releasing African underground works, some of which have never been pressed on vinyl or tape before. Are there any artists you are particularly proud to see reaching a wider audience?

I’m not personally involved with the label curation but a lot of the releases have developed from the festival and surrounding parties. There are artists like Otim Alpha or Ekuka who I have seen perform and been absolutely blown away. Like, why isn’t this person a worldwide superstar whose name is on everyone’s lips, their artistry is that powerful. These are the artists I’m most proud to see blow up, thanks to the labels.

I’m also surrounded by a community of incredible young artists and producers who make genre-defying, challenging, exhilarating music. So the fact that Hakuna Kulala has made a home and an outlet for artists like Don Zilla, MC Yallah, Rey Sapienz, Slikback, makes me very proud

DG:  Also, how do you feel about Western-based labels like the Californian ‘Awesome Tapes From Africa’? It feels like we are, or should be moving away from this colonial mentality of white male curators ‘discovering’ African beats and towards self-representation.

It’s a complicated question because the artists who they “discover”, like William Onyeabor or DJ Katapila one hundred percent deserve to be played and paid for their music. So I err on the side of, whatever gets these artists their pay and props.

I also think the problem is not the individual curators who have a passion for African music, it is the system that we all operate in that devalued African music economies and then gives out feathers for the caps of white men who “rediscovered” this music. I do think this needs to change and that African music should not be defined by the proclivities of outside “neo-explorers”. There has to be room for our music to be defined, celebrated and contextualised by Africans themselves and I think there is newfound awareness of that.

DG: Absolutely. Music, dance and DJing is about reaching anybody who connects with it, and as you say the power rave has to occupy one’s body is magical and transformative. One of those transformations can be the owning of one’s own narrative by resisting those definitions that you mention. Context and proper value placed on the artists’ work across the board is an essential for that to happen, and is what keeps a scene booming. That to me, is the ethos your sets and your work fosters so well.

Your community built around safe and liberated raving has seen many incarnations over the years. What kind of shape will Nyege Nyege take in 2020, online and in Kampala?

2020 Nyege Nyege is happening in the form of a party in Kampala, what form this will take depends on the Ministry of Health regulations  and safe consensus by the time September rolls around. But also because Nyege Nyege is made up of a global family we have planned a crazy digital edition that unites some of the best underground collectives on the continent and diaspora like Moonshine, Jokkoo, Pussy Party and more. In terms of numbers of artists it mayturn out to be our biggest edition yet!

Kampire was talking to Caoimhe Lavelle at The Demented Goddess.

Follow Kampire on Twitter @Vugafrica. Follow Caoimhe on Twitter @kwoovo.

All images by Darlyne Komukama




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