DJ and production duo Ancient Astronauts has worked with rising African musicians to create Afro-European EP Kampala Fire. The five tracks give a taster of their upcoming album, ZIK ZAK. We caught up with the pair to find out more.
We stand for organic beats and rhythms and, in the case we work with guest vocalists, with conscious messages… Music can speak to people´s hearts and minds. It has the power to change the world.
First up, tell us a bit about yourselves - who are Ancient Astronauts, and what were you doing before making music together?
Ancient Astronauts are a production duo from Cologne / Germany consisting of Kabanjak and Dogu. We produce an organic mix of hip hop, reggae, downtempo and dope beats. Lots of influences from funk, rockers, reggae, dub, jazz, afro, 90s hip hop, jungle, blues and krautrock.
Before music Dogu was studying Communication Science and snowboarding a lot in the French and Swiss Alps while working for a german travel company. He´s always been a big reggae and hip hop head, and started DJing in the early 90s.
Kabanjak started playing the guitar and singing in Bands at the age of thirteen. After his last band the Picayunes broke up he was looking for a way to make music on his own. That´s when he entered the world of samplers and drummachines, making his first steps into Musicproduction.
Living in the same town, Dogu and him soon found out they shared the same love for music. That’s when their journey as Ancient Astronauts began.
Who did you take inspiration from around the time your first album, ‘We Are To Answer’, was released in 2009?
Inspirations came from artists such as Bonobo, Quantic, Madlib, Pete Rock, Lee Perry, King Tubby, Sly & Robbie, Clutchy Hopkins, Kruder & Dorfmeister, Thievery Corporation, Shawn Lee, Tommy Guerrero, DJ Premiere, 9th Wonder, Blockhead. We also drew a lot of inspiration from old sci-fi movies, soundtracks and radio shows at that time, too.
Why the name ‘Ancient Astronauts’? What do you stand for?
It stands for the ancient old music that influenced us a lot like early reggae, blues, African music (especially afrobeat and tribal drumming), funk or jazz, and the combination with our own composition skills and modern production techniques to build a timeless music that respects the old artforms.
We stand for organic beats and rhythms and, in the case we work with guest vocalists, with conscious messages. We do not follow or support the bling bling commercial fakeness that supports a commercial capitalist lifestyle. We believe in equal rights and justice for all and our music and message is serious and aims to have a positive impact on society and the world.
Music can speak to people´s hearts and minds. It has the power to change the world. This is so much more important than being hip and hype or get rich. If we can live through our music then we live a good life. Luxury is only good if everybody on this planet can live a fair and save life. Otherwise luxury is only a waste of resources.
Coming to the motherland Africa and meeting young talents and working with them on something that gives us goose bumps when we hear it is just amazing.
How has your musical style developed over the years?
We always worked on improving the quality of our sound and production. The mix is very important and we do mix all our music ourselves and do not let anybody else do that for us.
Kabanjak is the main guy behind the production and truely spends most of his time always improving the quality of our sound. Dogu is focussed on the collaborations and projects and, as an experienced DJ, he has an extra eye on the mix, pressure and arrangement of the music. This combination and team work is what made us always improve the quality of our music.
The network of artists we collaborate with is very important to us and through nearly 20 years in the business we have learned to trust in loyalty and a oneminded spirit. We believe in quality and a good heart and have learned that this is much more important than just working with big names. There is way too much arrogance around in music business, so we do it our own way.
If you could collaborate with any living artist, who would you love to work with?
Buju Banton, Damian Marley, Public Enemy, Mutabaruka.
Tell us about your latest EP, Kampala Fire. What’s it about?
Kampala Fire is our homage to the super vibrant and creative music scene in Kampala / Uganda. There is so much talent around in that city and all these artists were totally unknown for us before Dogu travelled there for the first time and started connecting with local artists. Now we have found good and loyal partners in local music studio, artist management and distribution company East African Records.
You know we have worked with big names in the past like The Jungle Brothers, The Pharcyde or Thievery Corporation, which was nice, but coming to the motherland Africa and meeting this young talents and work with them on something that gives us goose bumps when we hear it is just amazing.
When did you write it and where did you record it?
We started doing the first recordings with African percussionists and drummers (that Dogu works with for his Family Affairs Cologne live Afrobeat and Reggae nights) in late 2017 and then Kabanjak composed the first music and rhythms from it. Then the first recordings were done and Dogu toured with some Kenyan and Ugandan artists through East Africa in 2018 and 2019 with the ZIK ZAK tour.
Through these tours and Dogu always building and improving our network of African artists the team for Kampala Fire (and our ZIK ZAK album) got bigger and better. All vocals on Kampala Fire were recorded at East African Records in Kampala.
How does Kampala Fire represent you?
It represents our love for hip hop, reggae and indigenous African music. The music of those genres is us. We connect the roots with the present and the future.
Can you talk us through each track?
‘Ghetto Youth Never Give Up’: C Wyne Nalukalala is a true role model for the young generation of Uganda. He is a true Nyabingi soldier for goodness and righteousness out of the ghetto of Kireka in Kampala / Uganda. His positivity surrounds him like a magic glow and Dogu could already feel it when he just heard people talk about C Wyne at a time when he did not know him yet. But the talk he listened to made him so curious that he wanted to find out who that guy is.
‘Ddala’: Spyda MC is part of the huge Nyabingi drum group Nilotika Cultural Ensemble and also hip hop crew Cypher Kabaka. He is one of the illest MCs on the mic we ever heard before. His mixing of indigenous singing and his unbelievable hip hop rhyme style just purely blows our mind. Give the guy a mic on a freestyle cypher and destroys it every time. Watch out for future collabos with him and his crew Cypher Kabaka.
‘Pump Up The Sound’: Bani Fyah is a young single mother from Kabale (the origin of Nyabingi) who lives in Kampala and is making her way through the ever growing Reggae music scene in the capital of Uganda. After the ZIK ZAK tour 2019, Dogu stayed another week in Kampala and by accident saw Bani Fyah perform live three nights in a row. He thought that that was a sign from above and that they had to connect. And they did. And ‘Pump Up The Sound’ is the result of that.
‘Do It To The Beat’: Actually the first MC in Kampala who was introduced to Dogu was Blessed San. This guy is a true freestyle fanatic and can be seen as the Don of the freestyle movement in the Reggae scene in Kampala. He has inspired so many young upcoming artists in Kampala with his fire tongue and we are super proud to have him bless our music.
‘Source Of Life’: Working with the whole Nilotika Cultural Ensemble is a true blessing. The talent and originality of these huge artist crew and their social activities for the Ugandan youth is highly respectable. These guys are the most humble beings you can meet within the city of Kampala. We give so much respect for their spiritual leader Jajja Kalanda for bringing them all together and give them a positive direction of life (instead the rough street life) through music, tailoring and Rastafari.
Such raw and original talent with clean hearts and intentions. This is how music has to be. These guys are like a big family. They breathe and live what they do. We cannot wait to show the world more of their music and projects.
In Uganda, which is one of the youngest countries in the world, it is essential that music has a positive effect on the youth and not just teaches them the mechanism of capitalism.
What are your hopes for Kampala Fire?
First of all, we want the world to hear what great talent is coming from the motherland Africa. At the end, Africa is the continent we all come from. It´s the origin of humankind and rhythm. But mostly the western perspective on Africa is that of an underdeveloped continent. And there is reason why that narrative is kept alive. Capitalism, white saviorism and all that ish.
Luckily, handmade Afrobeat and the modern Afrobeats (especially from Nigeria) gained a lot of international recognition during the last years and it underlined where the real groove is coming from. But still it is super hard for most of the local artists to get recognition, especially outside of their country. So the aim for our ZIK ZAK album, which Kampala Fire is an essential part of, is to give the featured artists some international recognition.
When Dogu travelled to East Africa for the first time he was so stoked from the great hip hop scene in Uganda that reminded him of the early 90s when true-school hip hop (Tribe Called Quest, Pete Rock & CL Smooth, Pharcyde, Hieroglyphics, KRS-1 and many more) was on the rise. Back then hip hop was really having a positive impact on communities. That was before the commercial and the gangsta aspect and all the bling-bling took over.
But in Uganda, which is one of the youngest countries in the world, it is essential that music has a positive effect on the youth and not just teaches them the mechanism of capitalism. Most of the people we are connected to in Kampala do a lot of youth work. Nilotika Cultural Ensemble for example do regularly drum circles and freestyle cyphers in local communities and the yearly Ghetto To Ghetto tour.
Positive aspects in music like this have to be delivered and shared with the world to inspire others to do similar things. What was it back in the 90s what they said in New York “Spread love is the Brooklyn way”?. And if you wanna take it further, then you could say “Spread love is the hip hop way”. The way of the original hip hop. And reggae. Kampala Fire is just one good example for the positivity that is spread in Kampala musically. And the message is LOVE.
What are your plans for the end of 2020 and into 2021?
Dogu will release the debut album by Nilotika Cultural Ensemble together with partner label East African Records. The album is mixed by Kabanjak. Then we wanna move forward with an ‘Ancient Astronauts meet Cypher Kabaka’ mini-album or EP.
We have also planned an album named Rhythm Origins on which we wanna dive deeper into the instrumental side of African music combined with our style of hip hop, reggae and dope beats. For this we have planned recordings with musicians from BANTU in Lagos / Nigeria, Nilotika Cultural Ensemble in Kampala / Uganda and Dogu´s network of African musicians in Cologne. And maybe more. And also Dogu started a new project with singer and producer Brazen Rule and hopefully they can finish their album in 2021.
Let´s see how Corona will allow us to move forward with our projects. We definitely will do much more with musicians and singers from Africa, especially East Africa. We are big fans of Nyabingi Rasta music and drumming and the origin of it is in Uganda. The way they play these Baganda drums just directly triggers our minds. And we will always follow the path of rhythm.
In a couple of weeks Kabanjak will drop his solo single “A Song Sings Itself” and there are more solo releases planned for 2021.
Ginally, if you could go back in time and give yourselves one piece of advice, when would it be and what would you say?
Hmm, good question. Definately something like “follow your heart and not the hype!”. Or “read the Serato manual carefully!” cause then some of the mistakes and problems we had in the beginning when we changed from DJing with vinyl to Serato control vinyl (digital) would not have arised, hahaha. And also “buy your own needles and slipmats before you go on tour in the US!”. That would have made our US tour with Thievery Corporation around 2010 wayyyy easier 😊.
Main image by Rob Myers. Kampala Fire artwork by Julian Rentzsch.