Although African music has received an increasing amount of attention over the past few years, East-African music has remained mostly out of the spotlight. In her sparkly sets, the queer feminist DJ Kampire Bahana is bringing these undiscovered tunes to dance floors all over the world. Her next stop is Sónar Barcelona, where she is scheduled to play a cheerful and tropical set that will surely get you dancing.
You grew up as a queer woman in East-Africa, could you tell us a little more about your childhood and teenage years?
My parents are Ugandan but I grew up in Zambia. However, I’ve been living in Uganda for the past ten years. I think living outside my home country gave me an early appreciation of pan-Africanism and an outsider perspective on my own Ugandan culture. Growing up on the Copperbelt, there was a lot of Congolese music playing on the radio, and in the ‘90s, we discovered Kwaito and SA House thanks to South African satellite TV. A lot of these musical styles still form a foundation for the music I love to hear and play today.
Have you always wanted to become a DJ? How did your career start?
I helped some friends put on the first Nyege Nyege festival and got involved in the underground music scene. From there, becoming a DJ happened organically. I was definitely inspired by the independent African and international artists who were travelling the continent and making a living out of music. It also exposed me to artists and genres of African music that were playing on global dance floors and that planted a seed for my own DJing style.
People have described your music as “to listen to Kampire is to dance”. Is that also the main goal of your music, to make people dance?
I think dancing is the priority, yes. I have an innate affection for people who lose themselves to the dancing; they don’t have to be good or even have rhythm, but when someone appreciates music so much they can’t help but express themselves physically, I am immediately endeared to them. Now that I am playing internationally though, I’ve become more conscious of the responsibility to play underrepresented music from East Africa, not because it’s underrepresented, but because I think it’s great.
Which genres do you prefer to play tracks from?
I play a lot of global club genres: tropical bass, Kuduro, SA House, Afrobeats and Soukous.
Which track is your biggest crowd pleaser?
I defy anyone to not get up and dance when the Uproot Andy remix of Etat Major’s Extra Musica plays.
You are a key player in Nyege Nyege, which is both a record label and a festival. Could you tell me a bit more about this collective?
Nyege Nyege is an international music festival that happens in September in Jinja (Uganda). It brings together underground, international and African electronic and traditional acts. It really is a unique music festival, as it’s one of the very few platforms that brings African artists from across the continent together – the line-up includes over a hundred artists every year. It is also a label, Nyege Tapes, which releases outsider music, introducing the world to the genres of Acholitronics (from Northern Uganda) and Singeli (from urban Tanzania). Nyege Tapes also has a studio and a residency for artists who are interested in learning and collaborating with local artists.
Nyege Nyege describes itself as a “Festival where you can do anything as long as you don’t hurt anyone”. What are some of the biggest challenges you notice when trying to achieve such a safe space?
A big challenge is the fact that Ugandan society has a huge economic gap, which is growing more and more with each passing day. So creating a space in which all aspects of Ugandan society can afford to safely enjoy themselves has been a balancing act in terms of pricing and taking on partnerships without compromising the festival’s vision.
You are also a feminist. I can imagine feminists in Africa face stronger and different challenges than those in western countries. What are some of the challenges you face?
There has been a number of kidnappings and murders of women in Uganda in the past year and feminists have been trying to draw the authorities’ attention to the growing insecurity of women in urban areas.
Would you say that your music is political, or is trying to convey a political message?
I don’t think about politics when I’m playing music but I recognise that to be a woman DJing African electronic music in 2018 is not a politically neutral thing. But in the end, I just want to make people dance to the music I enjoy.
This will be your first time playing at Sónar. Have you ever visited it before? What are your expectations for the festival?
I’ve never been to Spain so I’m incredibly excited to be in Barcelona for Sónar’s 25th anniversary and to be included on such a prestigious line-up. Everyone who I talk to says they love Barcelona, so I can’t wait!
And what can we expect from you during Sónar?
Sunshine and sweet chilly vibes from tropical weather to get your Sónar experience started.
Kampire is set to play at Sónar by day, on Friday 15 between 17:30 and 18:30. Catch her at the SonarVillage by Estrella Damm.