Shangaan electro is a hot tornado of energy in a world of lukewarm electro. We caught up with the man who’s bringing it to the world Nozinja – otherwise known as Richard Mthethwa – during the final leg of his US and Europe-wide tour to talk to him about his sound.
Nozinja is from the Shangaan tribe, the smallest tribe in South Africa. And he’s eager to explain the deep roots of their music in his own life, ‘Shanghaan music isn’t a thing that you learn. It’s a thing that you grow up with. There’s nothing else; it’s just Shangaan music all the way. It isn’t new. It becomes new to you when you change the particular setting of the music.’ Nozinja has been driving this ‘new’ twist to Shangaan music for years.
‘In Soweto, there is a dance competition every Sunday. So, by going to the dance, you sit and look at those dancers and you automatically become creative.’
He spearheaded the Shangaan electro sound by adapting music coming out of Soweto townships and his tribe’s regional province Limpopo. And eventually, international players caught on; Honest Jon’s Records released Shangaan Electro: New Wave Dance Music From South Africa in 2010. Edits of Shangaan tracks – most produced by Nozinja – from the likes of Theo Parrish and Ricardo Villalobos led to more exposure. A year later, he signed to British label Warp Records and his debut album Nozinja Lodge was released in June 2015.
The reception has been overwhelmingly positive. Resident Advisor described the album as ‘joyous, colourful dance music from one of the electronic scene’s most eccentric and promising personalities.’ It comes into its own heard live though and most shows have sold out. I got a real taste of Shangaan electro at his show at the Barbican Centre, a venue nestled in the iconic brutalist estate in London.
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Nozinja’s go-to chant of the night was ‘189’: the beats per minute were faster than your average jungle song. And Nozinja’s dance crew bring the music to life. Nozinja later explained how dance is engrained in everyday life. ‘In Soweto, there is a dance competition every Sunday. So, by going to the dance, you sit and look at those dancers and you automatically become creative.’ Watching the crowd at the Barbican, you could see them getting into it.
‘I’m still focusing on Shangaan. We’ve been deprived of this opportunity for many years. I want to concentrate on other artists.’
Nozinja takes the musical process of creating tracks seriously. ‘If you never criticise yourself you’ll never become a good musician. So, I come with a critical ear and listen to my music and criticise myself.’ The resulting music is a well-rounded, sharp and contemporary sound that crosses genres.
When we caught up with Nozinja, he was preparing for his flight home and seemed eager to get back to South Africa. It’d been a long one: he’d been performing across Europe for the summer. We asked him about his focus ahead and his answer was immediate.
‘I’m still focusing on Shangaan. We’ve been deprived of this opportunity for many years. I want to concentrate on other artists. It will be up to them to go bigger than I did.’
Given his overwhelming energy and pride in his culture, I don’t think Nozinja will allow himself to be the last musician blasting out Shangaani music across the world.
Nozinja will be in Europe on a second tour from October 7.