London-based producer and beatmaker Kamau Kuru has today released his new album Oxydental – a project he described to us as ’a fusion of back-catalogue samples from 70s-era India, Turkey, and Persia, with gritty lo-fi hip-hop beats, with the overall narrative driven by British colonial-era newsreel snippets.‘
How could we not be intrigued with that description. And, as it turned out, we were right to be. For Oxydental is frankly a brilliant album, in the true style of DJ Shadow, even Dilla, using world music samples and these Pathe news clips that were very much ‘of their time’, bringing it all together with some brilliant production and beat making.
We spoke to Kamau who gave us the lowdown on the album track by track. You really need to pull up a chair, play the stream at the bottom and delve in and have your mind expanded. It’s really that good.
I’ve been making tunes since I was about 13, messing around on a cracked copy of Logic Pro that one of my mates nicked from our music teacher’s hard drive. About four years ago I bought a hardware sampler, and things really took off from there. It took a while to fall into the swing of things, but the first tune I completed ended up as ‘Bandit Country’, the first track on Oxydental. The sample is from an old Bollywood classic that my Dad used to play when I was a kid – I really love the heavy guitar chords and the airy strings that I used in the b section.
I chucked the newsreel samples in the track before I realised that I was going to use them to drive a narrative throughout the album, I just really liked the contrast between the clipped, turn-of-the-century RP accent and the clean, contemporary beat. I also found the content of the newsreel hilarious, like some of the more bizarre vocal samples that crop up in DOOM’s King Geedorah project, except it’s not from a straight-to-telly b movie, but actual propaganda used to legitimise the tactics of the British Raj in India. So I ended up using colonial newsreels as the main motif across the project, both as a kind of nod to the supervillain theme in Madvillainy, and as a way to demonstrate the contrast between colonial representations of ‘oriental’ regions, and the rich musical traditions present there that I sample from throughout the project.
The next track, ‘Bounce’, was also the second tune that I made on the MPC. The sample comes out from the Turkish psych craze of the mid-70s, a catalogue of really cool and unusual tunes which blend contemporary Euro-American psychedelic guitars and synths with more traditional Turkish scales and musical motifs. The samples I flipped on ‘Cop That’, ‘Heavy’, and ‘Down’ also came from this scene. I especially love the synth line on ‘Bounce’ – it really reminds me of the samples that drove the West Coast G-Funk sound, but with more Arabesque leanings.
I made ‘Sunshine’ when I was going through a big Dilla phase, and I was essentially trying to emulate some of the funner tracks on Donuts. The sample is from a cover of ‘Sunshine Day’ by a Punjabi band in the late 70s.
‘Move’ is, in instrumentation, almost identical to ‘Bandit Country’, just more up-tempo and up-beat. I doubled down on this by adding the heavy breakbeat, and beefed the sound up with some strong synthesised bass.
The next track, ‘Bags’, is my favourite tune on the album. The sample is from an obscure psych project from Pakistan, and I really love how etherial and futuristic the keys and synths sound, almost like an 8-bit video game soundtrack. I bit the drums from the intro of a Cambodian rock tune from the late 60s. I didn’t really process them at all; the sounds on Cambodian rock records are absolutely insane – I’m hoping to do a full project using tracks from the era in the near future.
I made ‘Don’t Stop’ and ‘Drop’ at the same time, sampling from the same catalogue of old-school Persian and Iraqi funk. ‘Don’t Stop’ was further emulation of Dilla’s sound on Donuts: I really liked how he could just grab a 2- or 4-bar loop just before the climax of a track and use it to build tension before a really cathartic b-section. For ‘Drop’ I was going for the sort of excessive cocaine rap instrumentals on Raekwon’s Only Built 4 Cuban Linx, really cool and sinister.
‘Light Up’ is another of my favourite tracks. I have always really liked the flute, especially when used as a sample, but had never managed to find the tune to flip. I eventually found this one while I was digging around for ‘Drop’ and ‘Don’t Stop’. I loved the sparsity of the loop, with just bass and flute – most of my tunes are pretty busy so I’m really glad I managed to do something a bit more minimalist.
‘Heavy’ and ‘The Oxydentalist’ were the last two tunes I made. ‘Heavy’ was inspired largely by the sounds on DJ Shadow’s Endtroducing, especially ‘Organ Donor’. Again it’s about looping quite a simple phrase to mount tension, but this time not giving much in the way of release, so that the tune feels almost a bit claustrophobic and paranoid. I enjoyed making ‘The Oxydentalist’, as I took more steps than I usually do in manipulating the sample, which I pitched down quite dramatically and processed heavily. The time signature is also 6/8, or rather 4/4 but with everything based rhythmically on triplets. Kanye used this technique really effectively on ‘Spaceship’, which is my favourite track off College Dropout, and I really wanted to emulate it somewhere.
‘Whip’ took me absolutely ages. The sample is the title track of a Bollywood film, and I really liked the guitar but couldn’t quite figure out a way to celebrate the sample and still make it my own. I eventually settled on a loop for the most part, but also giving the guitar a proper 16-bar solo, and slapping a synth bassline in the mix.
‘Extra Piquant’ is just a bit of fun really. Whilst I was digging for newsreel snippets I found this clip discussing some of the first curry houses in London, and I found the sense of trepidation and fascination with something that has since become a national staple hilarious. The sample is one of the three in the album which don’t strictly conform to the Indian-Persian-Turkish brief, as it’s a bit of ethio-jazz, but I found it fitted in with the vocal sample so well that I kept it in.
I made ‘Spit’ in about half an hour. I especially like how it contrasts with the next tune, ‘East’, with the former being really heavy and based around the heavy break, and the latter being largely without drums, where I just really let the sample do the talking.
‘King Kuru’ is another Bollywood title track. The film in this case was about a maverick ganglord in Mumbai, and I really wanted to stay true to the really vintage cool sound, so I kept the processing and additions pretty subtle with the guitar centre-stage.
‘Hello’ is another of my favourite tunes. When I was making it I had just bought a little bass synth, which is the sound that I wanted to celebrate on the track. The Bollywood sample I chose complimented it perfectly, as the low-end in the mix was minimal, but there was plenty of interest and activity in the mid- and top-range. My main inspiration for this track, and in particular in the use of the sample, was some of the more gaudy uses of Indian music in Hip-Hop from the mid-2000s, like Black Eyed Peas’ Monkey Business, which samples heavily from that catalogue. However, tunes in this tradition often ended up sounding quite exploitative and exoticising, which is something I am obviously quite against. To counter this, I programmed the drums to compliment the percussive instrumentation in the sample, rather than overwhelm it with aggressive boom-bap patterns.
‘Down’ and ‘Oh!’ are, like ‘Spit’ and ‘East’, all about the contrast between the tracks. ‘Down’ is once again a really busy mix, with the Turkish psych guitar sample and all of the heavily processed adlibs over the top, leading to the slightly more subdued b section. ‘Oh!’ is another Cambodian rock sample – it’s actually from a Khmer cover of Nancy Sinatra’s ‘Bang Bang’. I just loved the processing and instrumentation in the mix, so my additions were quite minimal and subtle, leaving the sampled loop at the forefront.
‘Go’ and ‘Outro’ feed into each other quite closely. Ending an instrumental album in a way that sounds natural and conclusive can be quite tricky, and using more newsreel samples to bring a close to the ‘bandits’ narrative across the project was really useful, in that regard. I love the sample I used on ‘Go’, but it felt quite empty without the vocal samples over the top, and as such it was the perfect candidate to lead into the outro proper. For ‘Outro’ I used the end of the same sample used in the intro, to bring a close to the whole theme.
I’m actually in the finishing stages of my next project, Cafe Culture. I’ve based that album conceptually on the role of espresso bars as the home of counterculture in 1950s and ‘60s Britain, and I’ve drawn samples from French and Italian jazz, pop music, and film soundtracks from that era.