A pearl from the Nyege Nyege catalogue

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Digging for music can be hard sometimes. Drowning in the drab of copycat music, gradually losing hope that you’ll find a gem. Eyes are itchy, you’re about to call it a day. But all of a sudden you stutter, and you wonder if the bluelight has gotten to your brain. There, right in front of you, a pearl shining amongst the trash: you've found Nyege Nyege Tapes.  

Since its inception in 2013, the label and collective have been recognised as the mouthpiece of the African underground. Their catalogue ranges from more traditional African music rehabilitated through cheap software and second-hand drum machines, to genre-shredding tracks stirred up in the bedroom of some African kid. This is the environment MC Yallah & Debmaster fit into. Yallah was a local hip-hop legend in Kampala, Uganda, before doing a 180 and working with Nyege Nyege. Her tracks, produced by Frenchman Debmaster, are heavy-hitting pieces, leaving you beaten up, gasping for breath. We talked with MC Yallah over a crackling WhatsApp call, discussing her inspirations, Nyege Nyege and the scene in Africa.

Yallah, you’d been MC-ing for quite some time before working with Nyege Nyege. How did you get in touch?

I met Derek, one of the founders of Nyege Nyege, in 2014. We were working together on a TV show where I used to rap the news. Derek and his friend Arlen came up with the concept of Nyege Nyege Tapes in 2015 and they wanted to work with me as an MC. Working with Derek, Arlen and the other artists on Nyege Nyege was very interesting for me, because I come from a more conventional hip-hop background. Nyege Nyege has really changed my style in that way because they gave me the opportunity to work with different producers from all over the world.

My music can be a call for peace

Where do you get inspiration for your lyrics?

Well, I get inspiration from a lot of different things. First of all, I do conscious rap music, so I get inspired by life, people I meet, female empowerment, calling for peace… In South Africa there is a lot of xenophobia, people from other countries were killed there last year. My music can be a call for peace, to love rather than fight one another, against bloodshed. I don’t want to rap about politics too much, though. I also rap about myself, praising myself. The hip-hop attitude, you know.

How has Nyege Nyege impacted the scene in Uganda and Eastern Africa?

One of the most important things they did was discover all the talent that people had ignored before, in Uganda and beyond. The talents that they discovered are really unique, voices that weren’t heard before. If it wasn’t for Nyege Nyege some of us wouldn’t be known at this level. I’m very grateful for the exposure I got through them and for the opportunities to meet a lot of interesting people.

What do you appreciate most in a crowd?

I appreciate it when I feel a connection with people. I appreciate it when they put in some effort for this when they’re loving me. This also gives me more energy to give back. That is actually one thing that I’ve seen more in Europe than in Africa. Europeans love and support their artists. This is also the case in Africa, but a lot of people are still lagging behind in understanding the kind of music that I’m doing: electronic hip-hop. They don’t really understand it. The number one reason for this is that this kind of music is still very new in Africa. In time they’ll get to understand it and I know that they’ll love it.

I’ve read that you rarely listen to music other than your own.

It’s true that I don’t listen to other people’s music that much, but for the most part that’s because I’m always busy with other things. But I do believe that I have a different style, a different kind of flow that is unique to me; I want to harness this. When you listen to music by other people you end up getting lazy as an artist and you find yourself emulating their flow, their style. You lose your own identity. I see that a lot in Uganda, where I live. All the people on the scene sound like Nicki Minaj or some other artist.

Do you look up to any MCs?

Actually, I got interested in rap when I was about seven to ten years old. I used to listen to The Fugees, Jay Z, Nas, Tupac Shakur, Biggie, Lauryn Hill… They inspired me and I respect them. They made me fall in love with rap, they are the reason why I do this. But right now I don’t have inspiration, the inspiration that I have is MC Yallah, it is me, myself.

What artists do our readers have to check out?

Two DJs on Nyege Nyege that I really like are Hibotep and Catu Diosis. People also need to watch out for Ecko Bazz and Swordman Kitala, they’re dope.

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