At Rewire’s eleventh festival edition in The Hague, PAM meets backstage with Ecko Bazz after an explosive performance to talk about love’s place in his earth-shattering music. Interview.
For Ecko Bazz, sounds can be deceiving. The Ugandan rapper, whose explosive debut Mmaso sounds like the apocalyptic rain of impending doom, has a soft side. “If you don’t understand where happiness comes from, if you cannot love yourself, if you cannot have that ultimate love, then you miss out,” he told me with a stark sincerity backstage at the Rewire festival moments after his high energy performance complete with screams, wails and sweaty mosh-pits. Rapping in Luganda upon the experimental productions of MC Yallah collaborator Debmaster, Kenyan club futurist Slikback, Berlin based Japanese beatmaker DJ Die Soon and the inimitable DJ Scotch Rolex (aka the firepower behind Nyege Nyege’s Hakuna Kulala boundary pushing sub-label), Ecko Bazz is packaging a message of love and a call for humanism inside a war cry.
“I’m kind of a conscious rapper,” he explains, “sometimes I talk about myself and sometimes I talk about social issues. I talk about politics, religion, lifestyle, and how it impacts human life.” Ecko’s work explores violence, religion, drug abuse and poverty in the Ugandan slums, but face-to-face and off the stage he seems much more preoccupied with loftier ideals (ignore the scent of Holland’s most popular flower filling the room). “In my meditation,” Ecko meanders, “in the time I’ve given to myself, I understand more and more about love.”
As for the rattling bass and machine gun kicks, it’s more a matter of unconscious inspiration than industrial aesthetic. Speaking of the gnarly productions that rip forth from his songs Ecko explains, “if it inspires me, I go with it. I don’t really care how it sounds. I don’t care if it’s just a dot. Like that *gestures a flick*. Like one drop, a bit. Just one ‘twing’. So long as it inspires me,” he continues, “Because when you let the beat get into you, it tells its story and then creates a feeling. And that feeling is what you build on together.” Though, it might be easy for him to say as Ecko finds himself in the Shangri-La of East African inspiration, where good beats and forward thinking productions flow like a river of honey. A member of the Nyege Nyege collective from the early days in 2015, Ecko states plainly that the unifying principle of the sleepless and psychedelic collective is “love for music. Yeah, the love for music, that’s what I believe.” adding definitively, “good music.” That and a taste for nightlife and dance. “In Kampala, any show organized by Hakuna Kulala and Nyege Nyege is always packed because Kampala is a very vibrant city and people are always happy and they love partying. So yeah, the vibe is always hyper,” Ecko states with a smile.
Hyper but purposeful. Partying and the catharsis of the dancefloor remain central totems but there’s also gold in them there hills. “I do music for a reason. I believe there is a very good reason why I am me and why I have life and why I’m conscious like this. I believe that what I’m doing is a purpose I’m serving here during my time, you know?” Ecko clarifies after a detour on frenetic bass and hedonism. “You can live a purposeful life. Those full moments and a life of no regret, a life of no violence, a life of happiness and joy. If you can only understand where it comes from. If you can understand where that joy comes from, you can have it and life will always be sweet.” There’s a minor glitch in my brain as I think back to the full throated chaos I witnessed moments earlier on stage, but Ecko’s sincere smile and post-show bliss makes me think this is a Zen koan I’m not gonna unlock with reason alone. “The creator and the energy that created me, give me the consciousness to manage and understand the concept of life. I want to pass it on to other people through my music, and maybe we can spread more love among people’s hearts. We will understand exactly what life means and the purpose of living.”
“A noble pursuit,” I chime in. The comment didn’t land and I spent the next few moments trying to translate with some futility. “If you don’t understand what life is, what really makes life and what makes your life good and what makes your life bad, what really lags you behind what really makes you a successful person… You will be a puzzle,” Ecko concludes with a laugh.
We wrap up the interview around 3AM, full of energy and good cheer, ready to close out the Rewire festivities down below. The ground was shaking with the sound of bass and there was much dancing left to be done. After The Hague, Ecko was moving on to Brussels, Vienna, Milan and more on a Euro tour that was sure to blow the minds of clubs across the continent. As we stood up and moved down the hall the kinetic frontman left me with some final words, “I realize I persist on the point of love,” he laughs “love, love, love. I’m going to talk more about loving and make people understand how beautiful it is and celebrate more about it, because that’s what can free up your mind.”