The Fade to Mind duo (and one-time FACT mixers) discuss upcoming collaborations, the death of genre, and songs that make them cry.
Nguzunguzu — comprised of Asma Maroof and Daniel Pineda — first emerged in 2010 with a self-released EP and a mixtape dedicated to different versions of Art of Noise’s seminal ‘Memories of Love’. Both efforts would set the template for what to expect from the duo: a wide-eyed approach to crate-digging and a devil-may-care attitude when broaching genre (the unfortunate Discogs user who tagged that first EP with the laundry list of “Electronic, Hip Hop, Latin, Reggae” and “Reggaeton, House, Favela Funk, RnB/Swing, Cumbia, Kwaito, Ghetto” seems to have thrown everything at the wall to see what would stick).
The duo’s ability to seamlessly blend underground club styles, sultry 90s-baby R&B, and the rhythms and sounds of Latin America comes at a time when all three threads have been turned into dance music fetish items. Yet what sets Nguzunguzu apart from the Johnny-come-latelies and the global music tourists is an appreciation and understanding of their inspirations that is completely honest and organic — their music just rings true. There’s mystery, seduction, and a feeling that things could take a frightening turn at any point, with violence suggested by percussive samples that could easily be cocked handguns and swung katanas.
Maroof is originally from Bowie, Maryland, a suburb halfway between Washington and Baltimore, where she grew up listening to R&B, hip-hop, and alternative. “I’m definitely one of those kids that got home from school and watched only music videos,” she says. “MTV baby.” Pineda’s musical background is even more diverse, touting rap, punk, noise, salsa, and reggaeton. The pair met at the Art Institute in Chicago, beginning their collaboration there before decamping to Los Angeles (due in no small part to the favorable weather).
Since then, Nguzunguzu has built their reputation not only through their recorded music, but with their electrifying DJ sets; a collaborative spirit ties both together in symbiosis. “We share a studio, and we shuffle through ideas, play different sounds or samples, and build on what’s interesting,” says Pineda. “But we get many ideas through DJing,” Maroof adds. “Like song structure: making songs that work structurally for DJing. Like if it’s too busy in the beginning, it doesn’t sound as good as if you have maybe one element in the beginning.”
Their collaboration is set to take a new turn with Future Brown, a collective that also includes Fatima Al Qadiri and Jamie Imanian-Friedman (aka Lit City’s J-Cush). The project will join the foursome with vocalists; so far the only name they’ll reveal is multi-talented Chicago upstart Tink. Speaking of vocalists, Nguzunguzu also produced two tracks for Fade to Mind singer Kelela, whose mixtape they say is “gonna blow brains.”
As for their own music, Pineda will release an EP under the alias NA on September 2 (via Fade to Mind) which will be followed by another Nguzunguzu EP in the fall. Both efforts are described as “dancefloor driven.” NA’s ‘X Treme Tremble’ has shown up in sets by Total Freedom and Girl Unit side project Hysterics, and it’s a relentless drum track with a hypnotic four-note melody and not much else; it’s reminiscent of Night Slugs’ Club Constructions series. “I kind of see those stripped down tracks as always having an important place in club music,” Pineda explains. “The simplest tracks often bang the hardest.”
It’s been a big year for releases — both mainstream and underground — that match up with the Nguzunguzu palette, and Maroof names a few recent favorites. “There’s a couple on Ciara’s new record that I love to play out,” she says. “‘Dirty Laundry’ off Kelly Rowland’s [album] makes me literally cry,” and (unsurprisingly) she’s eagerly awaiting Beyoncé’s new effort, as well. “That’s on the R&B/pop tip, but of course Kingdom’s release is on continuous repeat, Helix’s new release is bananas, also the Hysterics Club Constructions. We play all dem.”
The way that Nguzunguzu shifts so easily between R&B hits, Night Slugs tracks, and everything in between has become a touchstone for others who make club music, to the point where “Nguzunguzu-like” has been used in reviews of their contemporaries. How does it feel to be on the leading edge, influencing underground music at-large? “Ha! That’s flattering,” Pineda says. “I don’t know though, it’s kind of funny.” Maroof is more diplomatic: “We are really inspired by our peers and other pioneers of sound, so it’s great to hear that we can inspire people as well.”
And as Nguzunguzu and their peers become more prominent, as they team up with vocalists and approach a crossover moment, what of genre? For the Discogs user who checks all the boxes because one can’t possibly do the trick… is genre dead? “Kind of, at least in my eyes,” says Maroof. “In this day and age, people are finding music primarily on the internet, sometimes from sites that aren’t even in their own language, but if it makes me move, then why not?”
“I don’t think it will die,” Pineda reasons. “I think it can be a useful way for people to identify what they are trying to produce; it’s a way to distinguish what you are doing from the rest.” For Nguzunguzu, distinguishing their music from the rest has been the easy part. “I’ve always had trouble describing with words what we DJ and produce,” explains Maroof. “But ‘sad, sexy, scary’ still remains the best description.”
Preview NA’s forthcoming ‘Flute Gasp’ below. The track was recently featured at Hood By Air’s London fashion show.