Nguzunguzu: An LA-by-way-of-Chicago duo wards off evil spirits with a worldly musical sensibility and a hard-to-pronounce name.

Publish date:

When collaborative music is based on more than just a web of common musical interests, it's likely that something special will spawn from the individuals involved. Maybe it's a shared love for cats, weird computer animations, or Nikola Tesla, but the studio isn't the only inspiration for Los Angeles-based Daniel Pineda (a.k.a. DJ Na) and Asma Maroof (a.k.a. DJ Fantasma), who create cosmic anthems for nightclubs and living rooms under the name Nguzunguzu.

The tongue-twisting moniker, borrowed from carvings placed on the prows of canoes to warn off water spirits in the Solomon Islands, is something that fans of globetrotting house have learned to pronounce in the last year, and it serves as a fitting title for the pair's unusual musical personality. "It makes us think of a rhythmic sound," says Pineda. "It looks like a pattern, and sometimes we think about this thing floating in the ocean navigating around and between islands." Though they were both born in Maryland, Pineda and Maroof met while at school in Chicago, and bonded over cumbia, kuduro, reggaeton, R&B, Baltimore club, and house music—in addition to those aforementioned not-so-musical loves.

They began experimenting with sound in a variety of settings, improvising with drum machines and keyboards, and usually recording on cassette. A CD-R of 30 tracks made the rounds, landing in the hands of a few like-minded producers, including future collaborator Kingdom. After completing their studies, they relocated to Los Angeles and continued to develop their sound, spinning at house parties, art galleries, fashion shows, and film screenings. Along with fellow DJ Total Freedom, their now-defunct Tuesday-night Wildness party, at the famous queer/transgender Silver Platter bar, created dialog between communities using performance, art, and music, taking in touring DJs and influencing others with similar aims of running progressive residencies.


Their body of work is a twisted knot of internet links to numerous off-the-wall mixes, 3D-rendered fliers, and a labyrinthine website, with a zip file of their self-released, self-titled debut EP embedded inside. The five-track release, soon to be pressed on vinyl by Innovative Leisure, introduced Nguzunguzu to a larger audience with its grim-yet-banging bedroom lullabies ("Caress"), and cumbia at club tempos accompanied by baby jabber ("El Bebe Ambiente"). Their recent second EP, Mirage, finds the duo taking a sonic leap forward and tapping further into landscapes of unusual MPC and analog-synth sounds. It's clear that Nguzunguzu isn't about rehashing whatever trends are popping at the moment; countless mixtapes show that their tastes stem from hours of digging through both record stores and social-networking sites­—their "Moments in Love" mix, a tribute to the Art of Noise classic, utilizes more than 20 remixes and edits of the track, providing as much proof as one needs to find them guilty of being obsessed with the hunt. They download a ton, and buy a fair number of records and CDs on the street, according to Pineda: "We look anywhere and everywhere for music," he explains.

Lately, Maroof's search has brought her to the stage as M.I.A.'s tour DJ, but rest assured that Nguzunguzu hasn't been relegated to the back burner. Collaborative efforts with colleagues such as Brenmar, Kingdom, and Maluca are being prepped for release, and the duo is overseeing music direction for Wu Tsang's upcoming documentary film, Damelo Todo. With such a wide array of things to keep them busy, and plenty more sonic territory to explore, who knows where it's going next. "I'm going to explore the world and new horizons with my vocal chords," says Maroof.