When you think of South African musicians, at a stretch you may be able to recall Black Mambazo, or even 2007s DJ Mujava. For most of us it’s only Paul Simon’s anti-apartheid ‘Graceland’, that colours our nostalgia. With Simon’s movement towards retirement and a sudden void aching to be filled, this really is something to revolutionise the heart rate.
For the uninitiated, we’ll backtrack slightly: Shangaan Electro was the name of a compilation released by Honest Jon’s last year. It featured some of the best examples of the honorary South African dance phenomenon; a synthesised, marimba-heavy and speedball update of traditional Shangaan music. The Shangaan (VaTsonga people) living along the Limpopo River in South Africa have recently gained significant attention for their low-tech, lo-fi electronic dance music. VaTsonga electro has been pioneered by South African producer ‘Dog’, well timed with a number of traditional dances such as the Xibelani dance.
Set to release a selection of 12″ EPs, with collaborations from Ricardo Villalobos, and the Peverelist, ‘Dog’ was interviewed by Dazed Digital in 2010. Claimed to be ‘purely break-neck speed’, Shangaan are a ‘joyful, hypnotically sped-up’, boot-swivelling, this is an unmistakable African Soweto beat. Pushing 184 BPM (20 BPM than their first release in 2005), they are literally dancing faster than they’ve ever danced before. Hyped only by the locals, they’ve reached over half a million hits on You Tube, and became recognised in just this way. Brooklyn’s Wills Glasspiegel saw the video on You Tube and was so fixed and fascinated, he flew to S.A. and plucked them straight out of the Soweto streets and into an EP release.
Sit tight while I reminisce on a recent gig. ‘If I blinked I’d miss a full set, my mouth held a 45 degree, throughout’. At quarter past 9 the place is heaving. Clocking glances from a few socialites and producers, it appears everyone is here to witness the fitness- it’s party time alright. From the off, making opener ‘Tshetsha Boys’, (you tube that one) the group is made up of 2 guys, 2 girls, and ‘Dog’ (Nozinja ) on decks, I can’t help but focus all my attention on 1 guy, (the shorter of the 2 with plaits). Moving to 184 BPM, his tongue is literally solely comparable to a chameleon-supporting cast to the high pitched vocal samples, which seems an adaptation from Noah’s Ark; Shangaan are literally off the hook. Throwing snake ripples and with lyrics like an African Soap Opera, the guys in clown masks and girls in full crump ruffle skirts call out, “we dance 4 times the speed of you dancers”. Trust me this is no joke. Girls- high heels are strictly not prohibited here. If you aim on keeping your clothes and hair as fixed as on arrival, then stay home. This one is about getting down low with sweats and shakes (don’t consult your doctor, they say this is very good for you).
At a proud moment I realised I wasn’t an observer but a partaker of Shangaan, held at Richmix, Shoreditch London last summer. Armed with a press pass and free reign of this neon auditorium I set about hearing them from every angle. Calling crowds onto the stage and leading dance races. Crumping your way to the finish line seemed harder than they made it look. Moving from side to side as the crowd tried to ‘make like’ on the dance floor, inevitably ended in a whole heap of skin on skin, crawling crowds, and the local Camden Ale ground basin for a ball.
This is World Music at it’s finest and believe this, in the next few months we’re going to be hearing a lot more of this. Put aside any presumptions and expectations and if you can’t get to a gig (Sonar or Berghain Berlin), watch it on You Tube and tire your hips dangerously. If you once mastered the hula-hoop then you’ve got a head start…Take my word for it, these guys are coming big this year. African New Wave Electro full crump. It’s all pretty fucking awesome.