HHY & the Macumbas Credit: Courtesy Nyege Nyege Tapes

No sensible person can argue against the proposition that America is crying out for a cleansing ritual fire. The only grounds for disagreement that I can see concern which oppressive institutions should be fed to the flames first. As it happens, I’ve recently discovered a wonderful soundtrack for torching prisons of all kinds.

HHY & the Macumbas make just that kind of liberatory music. This Portuguese group have existed in one form or another since 2008, but I learned about them only last month, when Kampala label Nyege Nyege Tapes released Camouflage Vector: Edits From Live Actions 2017​-​2019 on June 3 (I bought it as part of my July “Bandcamp day” binge). If you know that Nyege Nyege Tapes has also put out two EPs by brilliant drums-and-synths troupe Nihiloxica, whose membership is split between Uganda and the UK, then I’m going to flatter myself and take credit because I mentioned it in these pages nine months ago.

Based in the city of Porto and arising from its multifarious arts collective SOOPA, HHY & the Macumbas have no fixed membership. Nine people are credited on the cover of Camouflage Vector, but I’m only sure that one of them has been involved from the start: bandleader Jonathan Uliel Saldanha, the artist, musician, and composer who founded SOOPA in 1999. His other projects have included Oxidation Machine, a 40-hour immersive noise-and-light installation, and the stage piece Shark: The Celestial Emporium of Benevolent Knowledge, a mock execution of “bodies” created by bundling trash into human shapes.

A portion of HHY & the Macumbas' stage setup, minus the personnel
A portion of HHY & the Macumbas’ stage setup, minus the personnelCredit: Courtesy Nyege Nyege Tapes

Some parts of Camouflage Vector were recorded in a club in Barcelos, others inside a huge oil tank on Tenerife in the Canary Islands; two tracks include live contributions from UK dub producer Adrian Sherwood. These aren’t songs so much as they are evocations—and what they evoke is a subterranean place, full of smoke and infernal red light but bustling with all types and colors of life. It’s the chaotic, left-hand obverse of the daylight world and its sterile, gleaming white-collar rationalizations for exploitation, racism, genocide, and environmental apocalypse.

Frenzied, mutating cycles of hand drums and trap set tangle in a dense polyrhythmic weave beneath sinister smears and screams of brass, while synths buzz and pulse and a kick drum throbs like your heartbeat when you can feel it in your eyes. Everything is bathed in “skull cave echo,” as Saldanha puts it. “It comes with a love for trance, otherness, and sound pressure,” he explains.

I especially love the dislocating effect of the music’s multiple simultaneous metabolic rates. The layers of percussion sometimes phase with one another or slip in and out of sync; the horns move with stately, almost funereal deliberation while everything else boils with deranged fury. All we need now is the biggest bonfire since the Big Bang, so we can all dance around it.  v

The Listener is a weekly sampling of music Reader staffers love. Absolutely anything goes, and you can reach us at thelistener@chicagoreader.com.

Philip Montoro has been an editorial employee of the Reader since 1996 and its music editor since 2004. Pieces he has edited have appeared in Da Capo’s annual Best Music Writing anthologies in 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2010, and 2011. He shared two Lisagor Awards in 2019 for a story on gospel pioneer Lou Della Evans-Reid and another in 2021 for Leor Galil's history of Neo, and he’s also split three national awards from the Association of Alternative Newsmedia: one for multimedia in 2019 for his work on the TRiiBE collaboration the Block Beat, and two (in 2020 and 2022) for editing the music writing of Reader staffer Leor Galil. You can also follow him on Twitter.