In “Lumuenu,” Mukuna pays tribute to the power of his ancestors. Within the seven-minute track, a pulsating, hypnotic ode to a Central African polyrhythm, the Congolese-Swiss artist layers haunting call-and-response vocal samples in the ancient language of Chiluba over a heart-pounding drum pattern variation. “I had this thought of how the people [in the Congo] would do electronic music, and how it would sound,” he shares. The result is a reimagining of dance music as a sub-Saharan African ritual. “Lumuenu” translates as “I see it” in English, as if envisioning a brighter, more hopeful future that lies just within reach.
The track’s bespoke artwork, created by Nigerian film director and visual artist Chukwuka Nwobi, captures the “spiritual rush” he felt, driven by the track’s African drums. Drawing on the connection between the rhythm pattern’s balanced “sense of chaos,” and the “beautiful chaos” of masquerade culture, Nwobi blends the energy of the Umutomboko ceremony with intensely illuminated color and costume in a shifting, lucid vision.
The journey that led Mukuna to create “Lumuenu” has been a long one. Growing up in Basel, he and his friends “started going out pretty young—like 14,” he says, trying to find a space where they—and the music they wanted to hear—could exist on the city’s predominantly white dancefloors. In 2017, Mukuna co-founded the underground label Somatic Rituals to bring their vision of this diverse space to fruition. “We had to shape this by ourselves to create a kind of space of procurity,” he remembers. These inclusive nights quickly progressed into a residency at one of Basel’s major underground venues, Elysia, and they released their first collaborative tape in 2018, SORI001.
As part of the young generation of the Central African diaspora in Europe, Mukuna excavated his ancestral history to form deeper connections with his heritage. “The tribe I’m from in Congo is called the Luba tribe, which originated in the 15th century until now,” he explains to me. “At the end of July, they did this traditional war ceremony (the Umutomboko ceremony) where they would celebrate the battles they fought—like a big two-day party—and during this time they have a lot of chants and dances.”
The freedom to create an experimental piece steered Mukuna to combine his personal and political backgrounds. Woven throughout Mukuna’s unique sound is an intuitive understanding of percussion-based rhythm, sharpened by the Senegalese drum lessons he’s taken since childhood, as well as his research on the mutable, polyrhythmic music played by the Luba tribe.
As the track opens, a propulsive drum loop builds and saturates to a bounce as though struck by multiple bare hands. Meanwhile, a distorted vocal sample reverberates over the rhythm in the distance like words of guidance uttered from a distant leader. Mukuna chose to sample words from a traditional poem about love, altering the vocals to keep the prose protected, known only to those who lead the ceremony. The triple-layered kick drum, slightly prominent on each frequency, brings “Lumuenu” back to the electronic realm. At its finale, the track stops almost as abruptly as it begins, as if the rhythm-induced trance was unintentionally interrupted by a jolt back into reality.
The sonic tapestry of “Lumuenu” celebrates Mukuna’s own history as well as the diverse vision of nightlife he shares with his collective Somatic Rituals. “We were inspired by the early house scene and the Detroit music scene because, when you watch these documentaries, you always see Black people enjoying themselves—and these parties filled with love.” By bringing the act of ceremony into dance music, the pure percussive elements of his sound present an urgent alternative to a backdrop for escapism: a space of protection, healing, and belonging.
Mukuna is a producer, DJ and co-founder of Basel collective Somatic Rituals. Follow him on Soundcloud.
Chukwuka Nwobi is a filmmaker and visual artist. Follow him on Instagram.
Mandalena Munkonge is a London-born writer and editor living in Berlin. She has contributed to Dazed, Hunger TV, KALTBLUT, and Telekom Electronic Beats, alongside coordinating several events as part of the team behind literary journal SAND and supporting the social media and communications side of Berlin-based platform Creamcake. She explores music, art, city life and culture in her work.