Afrorack and Africa’s first DIY modular synth make some wild, delicious grooves

January 30, 2020 Off By Peter Kirn

Bamanya Brian from Uganda wanted to explore modular synthesis – so he turned his electronics skills to making the instruments he needed himself. The gear is DIY; the resulting music is irresistible.

Meet Afrorack (artist name and a nice fitting moniker for his monster modular, too)!

Brian is actually here in Berlin right now, playing tonight at HAU2 (if you’re at CTM Festival), and participating in our Musicmakers Hacklab Sunday at Radialsystem. That has me … quite busy, so I’ll resort to some copy-paste here, but of course Brian, you’re welcome to go on at length whenever you like! The Afrorack modular itself is in our rehearsal studio and its electronic grooving tones are interweaving with jams and collaborations in our group. In his solo work, Afrorack is making unique, homebrewed techno, but also more complex polyrhythmic compositions and ambient drones, too.

Watch him give an overview, fresh from this month:

The modular phenomenon, nice as it is, has often been confined to deep pockets and particular geographies. So I’m sure this story will speak to anyone who feels isolated and/or on too tight a budget for some of the gear out there. He writes:

A few months ago I dipped my feet into the world of modular synths. The entire African continent has a handful of shops selling Euro rack modules which is really sad. Also, Euro rack modules are overly priced for someone in my context. My only option was to go the DIY route. I looked up schematics and started modifying some circuits and building others from scratch. All parts in my modular were sourced locally. In a few months I have learnt so much about electronics and analog synths and I have built what is an almost decent modular synth. I believe this is Africa’s first home made modular synth. I hope this video inspires someone out there to build their own synth. Feel free to ask any questions and please share and subscribe.

Arturia shot an interview with him, too:

So, there you get a lot of techno and acid sounds, but Afrorack is also exploring the musical language of his part of the world. Here’s a video featuring some self-described African rhythms, at a literal source – Lake Victoria, which borders Uganda and has its outflow into the Nile.

Now these asymmetrical grooves really speak my language, for sure…

The techno is also nicely weird and out there, in all the right ways:

Africa is continent-sized, of course, but the growth of Nyege Nyege Festival is helping put artists from not only Uganda but around the region on a global map. Crucially, this also lets festivals like ours in Berlin collapse geography and allow artists to meet in person and play together, and to allow unforgettable cross-pollination for artists, curators, and listeners.

Here’s Brian captured by Boiler Room (and the voice is the unmistakable Michail Stangl, who’s also not coincidentally one of the CTM Festival curators in Berlin):

By the way, if you’re curious about DIY yourself, here’s the resource Afrorack says he found most helpful:

And keep an eye out on Brian’s site, as it looks like more is coming:

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