Hyponik

Review: Nazar – Guerrilla (Hyperdub)

Nazar reimagines the direct horrors and concomitant aftermath of the Angolan Civil War in an intimately episodic debut LP for Hyperdub.

Off the back of his ‘Enclave’ EP back in 2018, Nazar coined the ‘Rough Kuduro’ stamp; a darker, more aggressive take on the normally upbeat Angolan dance style, designed to depict the uglier side of events seen in his native country.

Returning to Hyperdub for his first full-length, the now Manchester-based producer encapsulates both personal and political turbulence through evocative themes, pertinent field recordings, and warped sound design.

From the offset, ‘Guerrilla’ lays down a poignant and sequential narrative, with opening track ‘Retaliation’ evoking undisputedly raw emotion. Waterfalls and wildlife form the setting, while a gut-wrenching synth line and evolving, rumbling bass battle for the discourse; this contrast of doom-inducing instrumentation and peaceful atmospherics arousing perturbation, with encircling chants from the Ovimbundu natives sending a shiver down the spine.

Characterised by its story-telling aspect, the LP embraces an angst-ridden directness that highlights the precariousness of Guerrilla warfare, with impressionistic takes on scenarios detailed in his father’s wartime journal, Memoria de Um Guerrilheiro (2006). ‘Diverted’ follows this paradigm; its bouncy, off-kilter bassline and frantic Kuduro beat working in tandem to depict a high-intensity chase, with gun-cocking foley and a recurrent ‘run’ vox further delineating a tale whereby his Rebel General father offered himself as sacrifice to enable his leader to go undetected by the regime.

Similar in its delivery is ‘US Sanctions’, a sparse affair with fluttering low-end wubs and fractured vocal excerpts. Again, somewhat schizophrenically arranged, raucous percussive elements induce a sense of dread – with Nazar’s own pitched-down vocalisms condemning the UNs ‘clumsy’ involvement in the conflict – before making way for contrastingly warm synth-driven melodies: a consistent theme manifested throughout.

Fellow Hyperdub-affiliate Shannen SP lends collaborative duties on ‘Bunker’, where the pair convey the violent ‘Halloween Massacre’ events that took place in Luanda post-election in 1992, adopting a spoken-word style reminiscent of the late Spaceape. A sinister tarraxo beat chugs away, while distorted bass-work, further gun-cocking, and noisy atmospherics hone in on Nazar’s artistic idiosyncrasies.

While merciless in places, ‘Guerilla’ moves periodically between its serial themes, with tracks such as ‘Mother’ and ‘FIM-92 Stinger’ offering time to reflect. The former, an ode to the importance of women in conflict, features vocal extracts of Nazar’s mother – of whom he was exiled to Belgium with as a result of the conflict – recalling the day she left home to join the rebel movement, while his sisters harmonise over atmospheric field recordings in the background. It’s shifts like this that emphasise how conscientiously arranged the album is; Nazar’s percipient outlook able to create these moments of tranquility amidst the chaos.

The latter, ‘FIM-92 Stinger’, is more accessible in its approach, opting for a chugging 4/4 aesthetic with a filtered housey melody; less convoluted, but still inherently forward-thinking, with Nazar’s distinctive low-end distortions and organic drum-work dominating the dialogue.

Further chronological bounces in narrative highlight the political unrest at the hands of the 27-year conflict; with tracks such as the guttural ‘Immortal’, its oddball percussion and gritty, jaw-clenching bassweight very much Hyperdub in spirit, and ‘Arms Deal’, an other-worldly affair in which the percussive elements acts as gunshots, assisting in representing the socio-economic turmoil.

Closing an expertly crafted LP is the aptly named ‘End of Guerrilla’, with it’s Kuduro drums and piercing synthline embodying the combined feeling of euphoria and melancholy post-ceasefire. Nazar elaborates: “It’s about the end but it’s also about dignity and remaining standing despite being mutilated; making your voice heard despite not having anything to say. The rain is symbolic of forgiveness, washing away all the evils the war had caused.”

Guerrilla is out now on Hyperdub.

NEXT: Nazar: In Conversation

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