It’s no coincidence that Eleftherios Mukuka– better known by his stage name El Mukuka– has chosen the zebra to represent his long-awaited debut album. This black and white striped animal refers to the cultural duality that has always characterized the Zambian-Greek DJ and producer. An aesthetic move to embrace and celebrate El Mukuka’s two contrasting yet interrelated identities: his mix of African and European heritage. Sure, it’s a comprehensive and up-to-date showcase of his music, but it’s also a worthy achievement for all the sound work that’s kept him busy since his 20s.
Sweetened with hints of pop and tuned to fire up the European dance floors, El Mukuka’s brand new album ZEBRA is the best snapshot of the great moment that Afro-house is going through. We’ve already taken note of the captivating Afrobeats flowing out between Nigeria and Ghana. We’ve also tried to recap the vague origin and the fascinating rise of Amapiano in South Africa. Yet we never would have suspected that refreshing EDM infused with African sounds could come from El Mukuka’s cross-cultural laboratory.
Born and raised in Lusaka, Zambia, though with half Greek blood on his maternal side, Eleftherios Mukuka assumed from an early age that he was not of a single race nor did he fit into a single culture. Younger, he moved to Boston to study music. And he recently settled in Madrid to be more immersed in the European circuit. His album ZEBRA also reflects this spirit with a multilingual range of songs – there’re six different languages!
ZEBRA has also a lot of collaborators from different countries who are aligned pan-regionally to its celebration. On the African side, there are talents from Zambia, South Africa, Tanzania, Nigeria and Congo. On the European side, there are from Belgium, Germany and Spain. El Mukuka is already big at Africa’s best dance music festivals. With his career on the rise, his performances increasingly expand to other stages around the world. Everything had a beginning, of course, and indeed it doesn’t stop here.
How did your passion for music begin? And how did that journey lead you to become interested in both house music and African music?
El Mukuka: My journey began in Zambia, where I was born and raised. I fell madly in love with music at the age of 12 and wanted to become a rapper. I started producing my own beats and formed a rap group at school. We would organize small shows and rap battles. The rap phase continued until the age of 18, while also pursuing classical piano studies on the side. When I left Zambia in 2012 to further my music studies at the Berklee College of Music in Boston I had already started to dabble with electronic music production. I had been hooked on the likes of Basshunter and Edward Maya in 2008/2009 and later began to explore Afro-House. In my early twenties, I also became very interested in African music, both folk and jazz, from the southern part of Africa mostly. I would spend hours listening to Oliver Mtukudzi, Hugh Masekela, Soul Brothers and more. I even had the pleasure of meeting and interacting with some of these legends.
What things from your family history that you carry with you seep into your music?
My music is deeply inspired by my Afro-European background. I grew up in Africa, but in a Greek household with my mother, as my parents separated when I was young. I grew up in two different countries at the exact same time. Every cell in my body is a product of this fusion and so is my music.
A few years ago, since you began to have more and more demand from Europe, you decided to move to Spain. How much did these itineraries change your life, from Lusaka to Madrid?
Moving to Madrid a year and a half ago was a super exciting move! A new city, a new country, a new language! I love to do these crazy things (laughs). I love to get out of my comfort zone and challenge myself. Living in Madrid positioned me better in the European scene and taught me so much about how things really work in Europe in terms of the music business. It has also been great to work closer with my management, record label and publisher, as they are all European-based. I still travel to Africa quite frequently for shows though – I’m always on the move.
How was the whole process of writing and producing your new album ZEBRA?
The journey behind ZEBRA was quite an emotional and lengthy one. The oldest track on the album is from 2019 and since then it has been an ongoing process with lots of curveballs. It was a beautiful process though and one that taught me a lot about myself, my craft, and the music business. The album features some of my favorite musicians and was recorded and produced mainly in Africa. Twelve of the sixteen collaborators on the album are African and the songs span across six different languages which is so freakin cool: English, Swahili, Lingala, French, Bemba, and Spanish. What’s even cooler is that all six of these languages are spoken in Africa.
Why did you name it ZEBRA? Does it represent anything in particular?
The black and white stripes of the animal inspired the title. The mix of the two colors represents my Afro-European background, which is the driving force behind my fusion sound.
There’s a fascinating African house music movement and you are undoubtedly one of the many DJs responsible. How do you see the future of Afro-House music?
African culture has never been as hot worldwide as it is right now and this applies to every sector of the entertainment business. The rise of Afro-House is very encouraging and a great thing for Africa. However, due to its current trendiness, we now have a ton of cultural appropriation going on, especially in the European scene where DJs are jumping onto the sound with no connection whatsoever to the culture, and as a result, many of their records lack a deep understanding of the music. Moving forward I think the Afro-House audience will become increasingly selective and naturally lean more towards authenticity.
El Mukuka picks his top 5 songs that should be played at a party if he’s DJing:
1 “Bosana” [Enoo Napa Remix] by El Mukuka, HVMZA & Gaz Mawete