When Don Zilla released the two-track From the Cave to the World EP in 2019, the jury was out: would the Ugandan producer choose dance music or abstract exploration? “From the Cave” was a drum ‘n’ bass banger, while the 12:50 “Inside Me” was dark and dronelike. With Ekizikawa Mubwengula, the artist settles on a winner, although the title (translated as What a Waste of Time) is a misnomer.
We don’t hear much music from this region, which makes it hard to predict the sound. The region is laden with warfare, reflecting the law of the jungle. In response, the album sounds like a battleground: hard, loud, aggressive. Opening track “Full Moon” shifts from tribal drums to lurking electronics, while first single “Tension” drops electronic bombs before receding back into the live element. In “Automated,” a warning siren sounds, but a clubgoer also blows a whistle, as if to infer that music can be a benign form of battle. “Tension,” “Buziba” and “Ekivuuma” utilize an electronic chime, akin to a church bell. “Entambula” revisits the siren, but chops its wail into fragments and sprinkles them among the single notes of a sampled singer.
Midway through the set, the listener’s fears become reality. As “Shots” ring out, accompanied by the voice of what may be a soldier or revolutionary, there is no way to dissociate the music from the culture of violence. Don Zilla attempts to tame the violence, placing it within a larger context as if to declare, “we are not defined by the events around us.”
The album’s value is that it remains distinctly African, showcasing the continent’s most distinctive musical currency: the complexity of its percussion. The artist rifles through multiple musical sub-genres but settles on none. Toward the end, he even throws in a 72 b.p.m. thrill ride, replete with vocal whoops, before returning to the upper levels in the finale.
Ekizikawa Mubwengula is a debut album that doesn’t sound like a debut: confident and assured, Don Zilla is well on his way to making a global impact. Transcending his circumstances, he offers dancing as an alternative to warfare: a message for our time and all times. (Richard Allen)