Selections: Nkisi

Nkisi’s fiercely rhythmic music maps a route from ancient rituals to futuristic hard dance. In her live performances and catalogue of releases for labels like Lee Gamble’s UIQ and Warp’s Arcola imprint, the London-based Congolese-Belgian artist conjures a spiritually energised listening space, blending polyrhythmic pan-African drum patterns with supercharged strands of hardcore techno, gabber and doomcore. 

Nkisi’s artist name is borrowed from sculpted figures of the pre-colonial Congo kingdom, which are believed to contain spiritual powers. Her 2019 debut album, ‘7 Directions’, explored the African Cosmology of the Bantu-Kongo, and the writings of Kongo scholar Dr Kimbwandende Kia Bunseki Fu-Kiau. In it, she deployed a hallucinatory palette of percussion and synthetic textures to present a path to expanded consciousness. Though now dissolved, her NON WORLDWIDE platform alongside Chino Amobi and Angel Ho shone an invaluable spotlight on other experimental artists from Africa and its diaspora. 

More recently, Nkisi launched her INITIATION label and The Secret Institute research platform, both of which are aimed at further exploring the phantasmagorical properties of rhythm, from ritual to the rave. Her February 2023 album, ‘Avebury’, for the label, navigated similarly cerebral terrain. Its otherworldly ambient A-Side, ‘Ndombala’, was originally commissioned as the soundtrack to A Journey to Avebury, Stanley Schtinter’s shot-for-shot remake of Derek Jarman’s 1971 short film of the same name, which evoked the mystical properties of a neolithic stone circle in Wiltshire. Its febrile and percussive B-Side traces a speculative connective thread from that henge to those statues from which Nkisi derives her alias, weaving vibrational frequencies from pre-colonial Congo and the British landscape through those of Detroit and European machine music, before sending them out into the cosmos. 

“In my practice I’m very interested in stepping away from the known,” Nkisi said in an interview for Somerset House Studios' Grounding Practice programme in 2022. She’ll be returning in March as part of the Assembly programme, presenting a new piece alongside movement artist Joshua Woolford titled MA HA WISU, meet me at the crossroads. The performance is described as “a multi-dimensional and sensorial experimentation in dance, movement, sound, music, sculpture and storytelling, blurring and blending the boundaries between ritual and musical gestures.” Tickets for that are available here.

In her Selections, Nkisi spotlights music of a similar rhythmic complexity and energy to her own, ranging from ritualistic acid rhythms and “electronic voodoo music” to Belgian new beat, EBM and beyond.