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Nazar's musical storytelling is inspired by war, displacement and hope

The Hyperdub artist combines drone-heavy militaristic industrialism and futuristic French electronica

  • Words: Elizabeth Aubrey | Photo: Jocelyn Yan
  • 3 April 2020

Nazar was an exile in Belgium when he first experienced racism, aged 10. Asked by a teacher why his dad wasn’t around, Nazar explained he was in Angola, a soldier in the civil war. The teacher sniggered and accused him of lying, prompting ridicule from his class-mates. “They were so used to judging the parents of black kids and assumed that because mine weren’t around, they must be in prison,” he explains. “My father was deep in the jungle, fighting. I stopped attending classes.”

Nazar’s father was a high-ranking rebel general, and despite being over 7,000 miles away, the family were still at risk. “There were times when the regime were trying to kidnap and kill people from the outside,” the 26-year-old tells us. “Once, someone showed up at my family’s house and we knew we were in danger.”

Nazar escaped his daily ordeals by listening to dance music after his brother taught him how to download music illegally. “At first it was the big American rappers until I found French dance,” he says. SebastiAn, Daft Punk, Justice and Woodkid were all inspirations. “I remember trying to make music thinking that one day I was going to sound just like them,” he says.

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When the 27-year war finally ended, in 2002, Nazar travelled home. On his arrival, he was bombarded with kuduro – upbeat Angolan dance music made popular in the 1980s. “It was everywhere: in cars, on the street, at the airport, blasting from houses. It animated people,” Nazar explains. “Kuduro got people dancing and helped them forget the trauma of war,” he explains. He started to see dance as a healing force.

He spent the next decade travelling around Angola, meeting his family and hearing about the war for the first time: little was written about the conflict in the media or in books. “The stories and the silence made me angry,” he says. “I was either tearing up or full of rage. When I started to make music, I wanted to speak out against the establishment and tell these unheard stories.” Having decided on a direction and theme for his music, Nazar defied his parents and dropped out of college to pursue a career in music.

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Sending demos to Kode9 and travelling to London proved another life-changing experience. “I sent him songs that I deemed ‘rough’ kuduro, a kind of weaponised form of the genre that told the story of the war,” Nazar explains. He was invited to play at the Kode9 and Shannen SP’s club night, and was signed to the label soon after.

Nazar returned to Angola to make his debut album. “It’s a very personal chronicle of the war through the eyes of my family,” he says. Oral histories, field recordings and extracts from his father’s war journal are woven around piercing synths, deafening drones and militaristic beats to reflect the brutality of their experiences. Yet via moments of euphoric trance and house, there is catharsis and hope, too. “We all survived and are grateful to be alive to tell these stories. They teach us so much about humanity. I always just wanted to tell the stories that needed to be told.”

‘Guerilla’ by Nazar is out now on Hyperdub

Elizabeth Aubrey a freelance writer, follow her on Twitter

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