IKOQWE welcome us into their debut album by introducing “three beings from a distant time and space / Or not.” It’s a tongue-in-cheek invocation of liminality that sets a knowingly eccentric tone at the very start of the duo’s debut album The Beginning, the Medium, the End and the Infinite, promising high energy grounded in heady wit.
The duo is comprised of producer Batida (Pedro Coquenão) and rapper and activist Ikonoklasta (Luaty Beirão), both Angola-born and influential throughout the Lusophone world. IKOQWE make electronic hip-hop with DIY vibes and nimble lyrics in Umbundu, Portuguese, English, and Angolan slang that give The Beginning a specific sense of place in motion. Drum machines and classic synth sounds add a familiarity that balances out the space-age concepts behind the album, keeping us assured that whatever slice of reality these beings are from, they know how to make us move in the here and now.
The retro groove runs rampant. “Bulubulu” turns traditional Angolan sounds into a percussive backbone beneath comically menacing laughter and Ikonoklasta’s impassioned rhymes. “Pele” has cooler beats but even faster lyrical twists as Ikonoklasta leads the listener through a state of trance. Portuguese producers Octa Push, no strangers to African-influenced electronic music, join IKOQWE for “Vai de [email protected]@!”, a particularly outstanding track laced with heady aerophonic loops.
Chillout track “Outra Cidade” offers a lowkey moment before “Makumba” plays with metallic distortions and vintage-sounding vocal samples that complement the following piece, “The End (Kamicasio)”, a track that strays a little too far into overblown Halloween territory with maniacal laughter over quotations of Chopin’s funeral march. “Quarentena” is a refreshing antidote with old-school heft and rhythms that roll steadily, earthily, to take us near the cosmic end of the album.
Bookending the album and sprinkled throughout are melodic mini-think pieces, creative explorations of life, and media in a pitched-down voice. The aforementioned opening, “The Principle”, is a narrative that explains the journey of its vaguely alien main characters through our world as being “stuck between returning to a restore point / Like when the PC crashed and asked if you would like to go back to the last time it worked.” Later, “The Medium” quotes Marshall McLuhan’s famed “the media is the message” theory. It sees IKOQWE come to a drastically postmodern conclusion: “Everything happens at once / There is no continuity / There is no connection / There is no follow-through / It’s just all now.” The album closes with “The Infinite”, a futuristic instrumental at the album’s top speed that takes us somewhere even more distant.
For an album as raw as The Beginning, the Medium, the End and the Infinite is, IKOQWE has a finesse based on years of combined experience that makes even this fairly low-key record a lot of fun. Even its multilingual thought provocations are exciting rather than overwhelmingly existential. The Beginning is a compact yet and complete package, a fearless debut that promises to keep finding new and imaginative ways to assemble fascinating sonic stories with unique aplomb. What distant travelers IKOQWE will embody next remains to be seen, but if The Beginning is any indication, they’ll have a good time doing it.