Nazar on Guerrilla, Counterflows and Yaera
Angolan producer Nazar speaks about his final work under the moniker, produced exclusively for this year's Counterflows festival, and unveils his new project, Yaera
A lot has changed for Nazar over the last year. When we speak it’s just a few days after the one-year anniversary of the release of his debut album, Guerrilla, which came out just before the UK was forced into lockdown.
Guerrilla is a deeply personal record, documenting Nazar’s family history and the troubled history of Angola, in particular in relation to the Angolan Civil War. Both of his parents feature on the album, speaking in Umbundu, Angola’s national language. His father, Alcides Sakala Simões – a former general in the guerrilla movement UNITA and now an elected politician – recites a passage from his memoir, Memórias de um Guerrilheiro, on Diverted and his mother’s voice can be heard on Mother.
Although largely made between Manchester and London, the album is peppered with field recordings Nazar gathered during a period spent in Angola. These sounds, from the birdsong that opens the album on Retaliation to the helicopter blades that swirl throughout Bunker, all come together to form what Nazar refers to as ‘rough kuduro’. It’s a much darker, more industrial take on the upbeat and heavily danceable genre born in and traditionally associated with Angola.
When asked to produce a new sound work for this year’s Counterflows festival – normally taking place in venues around Glasgow but this year made available entirely online throughout April – Nazar revisited many of the field recordings for Guerrilla. The new work will not only mark the end of the Guerrilla era, it will also be the final work released under the Nazar moniker. “For me, it was a good way to extend or summarise most of the themes that I talk about and explore on [Guerrilla] in one single track,” he says.
“But also I feel that it's related to my career, in a sense,” he continues. “While I've always wanted to explore these things about my family, I don't want to be associated just to this, having that political responsibility and weight on my shoulders. I want to explore other things and, I would say, almost make pop music, or reinvent pop music from my African perspective.”
With all of his upcoming shows in support of Guerrilla swiftly cancelled and with the situation in the UK rapidly worsening, Nazar made the decision to relocate from Manchester to Amsterdam in March last year, where he currently lives with his girlfriend. The move soon took a professional turn, too, and the change of environment caused him to reassess his musical career.
Realising that his artistic goals had shifted since making Guerrilla, he decided it was time to step away from the Nazar project as he started to explore new themes and began working on music under a new moniker. “Nazar was made when I was like 14 and at the time I was a totally different person and I had other motivations when I was making music,” he says.
“I had just moved to Angola [from Belgium], so my views of the world were very Eurocentric... and I would start by having a Eurocentric, almost non-African sounding name so it could sell better, and obviously I didn't stick to it,” he continues. “But I've grown up... so I want to start fresh and put more emphasis into my own identity.”
Where Nazar’s focus centred around the exploration of his Angolan heritage, Yaera is more influenced by his current reality. The first single to be released under the new name signifies a distinct shift. Described as “the product of meditation throughout 2020’s pandemic,” Elavoko 1 is a much more tranquil sounding track than we’re used to hearing from Nazar. “It feels weird trying to make club music at home, so that's why my new thing is centered around other horizons,” he says.
“The sound from my EP, Enclave, and Guerrilla is quite distinct, but I also want to do this for myself in the next work because I've always been a fan of artists who can reinvent themselves... in each album, so it's like a mosaic,” he continues. “I'm just trying to push myself and get out of my comfort zone.”
The new track also comes with an accompanying video by London-based director and 3D artist Rob Heppell. Having previously directed Nazar’s Bunker video, the pair had been planning to work together on a live AV show for a handful of dates in support of Guerrilla before the pandemic hit. The video was funded through the NTS x Carhartt WIP programme, which supports eight artists each year into the next stages of their careers.
As he closes the Nazar chapter of his career, he seems optimistic for the future in a post-pandemic world. “It's kind of like a reset and it can have amazing consequences... No one knows what's going to be the next thing that's going to pop.”