Centering polyrhythms and syncopation in the traditions of gqom, UK funky, or dembow may be the order of the day for club music, but Mexican producer OMAAR isn’t new to these kinds of sounds. Since 2012, Omar Suárez has cut and pasted elements of grime, tribal, and Latin American styles into the structural elements of techno and house. Drum Temple, his debut full-length for Mexican label NAAFI, further cements him as a faithful proponent of rhythmic fluidity and Afro-diasporic percussion. All seven tracks, along with three remixes from NAAFI members and affiliates Lao, Nick León, and WRACK, revel in eroding barriers between percussive techniques, instead embracing a nomadic sense of rhythm and release.
OMAAR’s reverence for percussion on this album is almost liturgical. His tracks possess a hard-charging density, but there is something ceremonial, meticulous, and sacred about his style. “Drum Dance” is a rapturous reinterpretation of gqom and techno, at once resembling an ancient ritual and an intense strength-training session. The title track follows in its footsteps, adopting a similar palette. “Mystery Man” affixes industrial clanging, echoes of pan flutes, and eldritch vocals to this format, culminating in a sort of midnight drum march.
OMAAR adopts an eclectic approach, but Drum Temple is still threaded together by a cohesive percussive atmosphere. The Mexico City-based artist is less interested in emulating any one style than in articulating his own impressionistic vision of these genres. The second half of “Jungla” buries thumping drumbeats beneath field recordings of bird calls and monkey screeches, suffusing the album with a verdant sensibility. Meanwhile, the drum sequencing on “Ritmo” is reminiscent of UK funky, synthesizing a conga loop, hi-hats, whistles, and a dancefloor command that implores you to “pull up.” It is a jagged journey that lands in a dark dreamworld somewhere between the Selva Lacandona and the East London ends.
While OMAAR’s previous releases on NAAFI leaned more heavily on club-ready references and styles, Drum Temple is far more preoccupied with rhythmic introspection and careful control, even as it maintains an athletic tempo. Drum Temple quietly showcases the rhythmic alliances made possible by experimentation, smashing one genre boundary after another, but still communicating a strong sense of character in the process.
NAAFI is now more than a decade old, and it wouldn’t be hyperbolic to say it has become the chief reference point for Latin American experimental music (at times eclipsing other equally deserving collectives and labels, though that is largely the result of European and U.S. media’s myopia when it comes to music from the Global South). OMAAR has released on NAAFI since 2014, so he’s become a key artist for the imprint as it has garnered attention abroad. Over the last few years, though, the label has worked hard to expand its original mercurial vision internationally; it’s put out music from British and Japanese artists like Gaika and WRACK, stretching the geographical boundaries beyond its initial realm of collaborators. Drum Temple is an excellent reminder of the label’s original vision: to complicate the narrative of Latin American club music, continually embrace reinvention, and let a love for innovation and experimentation be its guide.
Catch up every Saturday with 10 of our best-reviewed albums of the week. Sign up for the 10 to Hear newsletter here.