Co-founders Arlen Dilsizian and Derek Debru launched the Nyege Nyege collective in 2013 by hosting club nights in Uganda's capital, Kampala, and started their label two years later. Organic growth has now turned Nyege Nyege Tapes into a record company of some influence, and the brand is also behind an annual festival. Promoting ‘outsider music from around the region and beyond’, Nyege Nyege releases futuristic techno, dub and other electronic dance music, and its artists have won plaudits from online trendsetters such as Pitchfork and Boiler Room. We visited its Kampala base to see how the label is run.
Nyege Nyege is based in a villa in Kampala that doubles as a studio, office and creative space. The label also creates music in partner studios in northern Uganda and Tanzania. ‘The most important thing for us is a physical space,’ says Derek. ‘We need a place where people can congregate and discuss ideas, share and make music, and generally be creative and adventurous.’
Including its full-time, part-time and outsourced members of staff, such as photographers, publicists and festival-booking agents, Nyege Nyege provides work for more than 100 people.
In terms of musical gear, the main items here are synthesizers, drum machines and music software Ableton. A healthy supply of hard drives, laptops, monitors, sound cards and a decent internet connection are also essential to the label.
Nyege Nyege Tapes works with artists it has discovered itself, including musicians in Uganda and groups from remote locations across the globe. It has released more than 30 records since 2017 in the form of downloads, cassettes and vinyl.
A typical day
Running the label requires long hours and is unlike any orthodox nine-to-five routine. ‘Every day is another story,’ says Derek. ‘Maybe we're doing some boring admin or a write up for an album, or we could be meeting with artists, shooting videos or organizing a party.’
The main way that Nyege Nyege Tapes distributes music is through its Bandcamp page – but the label also has a growing physical presence in record stores around the world.
Making a record is one thing, but an eye-catching cover can help it to fly off the shelves. ‘Once we send the song for mastering, we need to find a good match for the artwork,’ says Derek. ‘That depends on the release. It can be anything from an image caught on a phone to something more graphic.’
Once a song is mastered, it's either sent for pressing (onto tape or vinyl) or is released digitally. ‘We work with PR and distributors to get return on the release,’ says Derek. ‘Not only in sales, but eventually on tours.’
Touring and merchandise are essential money earners for the label. Nyege Nyege Tapes also brings in revenue from its own festival in Uganda, a 9,000-capacity event that hosts global DJs as well as local acts.