Release Date: Jun 2, 2015
Record label: Warp
Genre(s): Electronic, Club/Dance, International
Nozinja is the South African mobile phone repairman behind Shangaan electro, a dance genre he pioneered from his hometown Limpopo. We first heard the sound back in 2010, when Honest Jon's released a compilation of the same name, figuring the twitchy, uptempo music as a distant cousin to footwork. Nozinja was the scene's ringleader, producing most of the artists on that compilation.
Honest Jon's Records' eye-opening 2010 compilation Shangaan Electro: New Wave Dance Music from South Africa brought worldwide recognition to a regional style of hyperkinetic dance music driven by 180-bpm digital rhythms, to which dancers in outlandish, colorful costumes move ecstatically. The architect of this sound was Richard Hlungwani (stage name Nozinja), who produced the tracks and released several albums by artists such as Tshetsha Boys and Tiyiselani Vomaseve on his Nozinja Music label. While Nozinja has toured the world and worked with European and North American artists since the compilation's release, his 2015 Warp Records debut album, Nozinja Lounge, finds his own style pretty much intact, free of outside influence.
New Warp signing Nozinja (real name Richard Mthethwa) is a pioneer of Shangaan electro, a South African musical style that originated in his home province of Limpopo and is influenced by Kwaito house and the Africa-meets-Latin throb of Tsonga disco. The 44-year-old’s seventh album balances Afropop vocals with bewildering rhythmic structures and the kind of cheap keyboard sounds you probably experimented with as a toddler. ‘Nozinja Lodge’ swings between the naggingly familiar and the utterly alien: ‘Baby Do U Feel Me’ marries a dusty soul sample to lolling Latin chords and a super-fast beat, like an African take on the footwork of Chicago’s DJ Rashad.
The melding of traditional music with electronic dance music is usually a tricky proposition. If done poorly, the result can sound like some awkward, Deep Forest type of new age cheese-fest. If done skillfully, the results can be a joyous melding of cultural foundations with contemporary creativity. The key factor, as is often the case with traditional or folk genres more generally, is the knowledge and authority of the musician in question.
Even if you don't initially know how to parse South African artist Nozinja's new wave musical approach, his debut offering Nozinja Lodge hits the ground running to win one over right from first track, "Nwa Baloyi. " Dubbed as an innovative producer and artist versed in high BPMs of the Shangaan electro movement, Nozinja has maintained the frenetic vibe of the traditional Shangaan folk sound and peppered it with modernist influences like Kwaito (South African house) and Tsonga disco to agreeable effect. Born Richard Mthethwa, as Nozinja he initially comes off as a swashbuckler in spreading the sound — but that's not necessarily a bad thing.
Shangaan Electro is the sort of genre that you’d assume cultural imperialism would have long ago rendered obsolete: a quirky, hyperlocal sound that’s nothing much like anything else around it or before it. You can attribute its singular nature to the fact it’s, in large part, the creation of one man—Richard Mthethwa, aka Nozinja. A large, avuncular businessman who formerly ran a successful mobile phone repair store in South Africa’s poor, rural Limpopo province, as the story goes, Nozinja heard the music being made by his peers and spied an opportunity.