AFRICAN IMPERIAL WIZARD: Nzinga Mbande
Release year: 2022
Label: Tesco Organisation
So… according to the descriptions found online, African Imperial Wizard are a group based in Luanda, Angola, and were formed the day after the ceasefire was signed which ended the long civil war. The statements, to be found for example on label Tesco Organisation’s Bandcamp page, are full of rather militant Pan-Africanism and anti-colonialist sentiments proclaiming war and vengeance upon oppressors. Stylish photos by renowned photographer Brent Stirton complete the martial African aesthetics.
All good and well… except I have a creeping suspicion it’s all a load of bull. Call it a hunch.
But, regardless of whether it’s just an image thing or the actual truth – and I am betting my money on the former – African Imperial Wizard do put an interesting spin on the militant imagery of industrial music. And one that actually does extend to the music.
Industrial is of course very much a rather meaningless catch-all phrase for a whole lot of electronic music that in itself means nothing, so let’s elaborate. The album has a heavy emphasis on rhythmic percussive elements and a heavy tribal aspect, which makes itself known in part through the percussion, in part through acoustic, presumably traditional African instrumentation, and in part through vocal samples such as chants and what sound like ritualistic shouts interspersed throughout the album. Underneath these, distorted and crackling synths provide more traditional layers of industrial. Never going into territory that could be called either harsh or abrasive, African Imperial Wizard are surprisingly “easy listening” for an industrial act – but at the same time they sound exactly like they should be on Tesco.
The material on the album ranges from the atmospheric rural acoustics of Kaocen Ag Geda to the arpeggiated bass lines of Maharero Katjamuaha via the percussive, organ-driven martial industrial of Ekang Nna. At its most industrial, I am reminded of a less harsh, more tribal version of Genocide Organ or Grey Wolves – and I find myself wondering, if this is a mere coincidence. At any rate, there is considerable stylistic breadth, from almost neofolk expression to martial industrial to pseudo-dark ambient to militant electro; all given a uniform face with the tribal elements and ample use of samples ranging from warlike, ritualistic chants to altered animal noises.
The whole imagery of the act, especially considering my deep-running doubts about its authenticity, is at the same time off-putting and intriguing. I admit that for the longest time, I steered clear of African Imperial Wizard solely due to the gimmick-y nature of its visuals. On the other hand, the combination of the atmospheric, effective music and Stirton’s beautiful, sharp, aesthetic photography truly works. Upon listening to African Imperial Wizard, it feels a whole lot less fetishizing than it seemed at first. Fake or not, the combination of the music and the visuals don’t come across as very stereotyping at all; rather, the music feels like it attempts to give serious honour to the proud warriors depicted in the photos.
But that’s just my interpretation, from a very European standpoint, the validity of which can justly be called into question considering the nature of the project. I wonder how someone actually from Angola would react to this?
Ignoring the visuals and the imagery for a moment, musically Nzinga Mbande is an album of exotic-but-familiar, militant industrial noise – that works. I find myself liking this album even surprisingly much. The somewhat subdued or understated structures, putting heavy emphasis on the rhythmic elements and the samples, is actually extremely atmospheric and, above all, cinematic. This is the kind of music that would fit into a war movie or maybe a documentary. Entirely instrumental, with titles entirely indecipherable at least to myself, a lot is left to the listener’s imagination. And the project uses that to great effect, creating a context that is at the same time defined and vague, into which the listener injects their own readings.
In a sense, I guess you could say that African Imperial Wizard are at the core of industrial music. There’s a sense of mystery or at least (deliberate) obscurity surrounding the true nature of the project, amplifying the provocative nature of the imagery and the music. The project offers no definite answers or simple truths, but instead leaves it all for the listener to judge and interpret. If it turns out African Imperial Wizard are from Angola – then what? And if it turns out I’m correct, and they’re not – then what?
Purely musically, this is some good stuff. And, despite my doubts and following slight distaste for the imagery, I have to admit: it does truly enhance the experience.
Visit African Imperial Wizard on Instagram.
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