If you’re a fan of Hakuna Kulala, the sublabel of Nyege Nyege Tapes focused on exploring East Africa’s club music, you may already be familiar with Ratigan Era’s rich, melodic bars. He exchanged verses with Kenya’s MC Yallah on “Big Bung”, from her 2023 standout Yallah Beibe, over bouncing neon synths and a sensual looping groove, and appeared alongside her again on “Hell of a Dance Song,” the opener on Kampala-based Congolese producer Chrisman’s sprawling album Dozage. He’s a sensation across Uganda too, his baritone voice booming from motorbike-taxi speakers and club sound systems since featuring on Pallaso’s viral pop song “Nsaba” two years ago.
All worthy tasters that hinted at Ratigan’s knack for blending earwormy riddims, a smooth flow, and hard-hitting raps, but they didn’t quite capture the whole picture. That comes crashing through on Era, the Ugandan artist’s intense, varied debut. Switching effortlessly between Luganda, patois, Spanish, and English, he sings and raps over a selection of throbbing, dancehall-rooted beats supplied by a who’s who of Hakuna Kulala’s producers.
Ratigan grew up in the working class Kawempe neighborhood, where reggae and dancehall mix with the cacophony of East African pop, gospel, Afrobeats, and U.S. trap that blast out of every taxi and corner store loudspeaker. Era is a vivid reflection of this diverse musical tapestry, but also demonstrates Ratigan’s deep, sincere connection to Jamaican music. Imitation this is not.
Ratigan’s versatility is immediately apparent on “Gorilla Attack,” his vocals light and melodic one moment, low-slung and gritty the next, while his easy flow and playful vocal acrobatics weave in and out of Chrisman’s downtempo pulse. Here and elsewhere, like “Four Corners,” another superb Chrisman-produced track that draws on gqom’s ominous, bass-heavy sound, the record echoes the claustrophobic atmospheres of Jamaican artists like Skeng, who’ve championed the raw, fierce mix of dancehall and trap.
The tracks produced by Hakuna Kulala stalwart Scotch Rolex, aka Berlin-based Japanese veteran chiptune producer DJ Scotch Egg, bring out a quirkier side to Ratigan: The magnificently odd “Drop it Down” is a fever dream of video game bleeps and bloops and funny little voices, anchored to earth only by the bass-heavy, gyrating groove. The illusory, surreal feeling also permeates “Gan Dem,” where Ratigan’s urgent delivery is set against Debmaster’s steady, rumbling lows.
With so many producers—including HHY & The Kampala Unit‘s Jonathan Uliel Saldanha, aka Lithium Beats, with his own trap-dancehall hybrid on standout “Baman Style”; Richard McMaster of The Modern Institute weaving a sparse but effective backdrop on “Top Strike Force”; and Kush Arora’s West-African drill-esque “Cool & Deadly” —Era is surprisingly cohesive, providing Ratigan ample opportunity to show off his versatile chops, and accurately reflecting Kampala’s colorful musical landscape. A brilliant debut that showcases dancehall’s newest global mutations.