‘It’s like they’ve got no bones’: Shangaan Electro

“When you see them dance you feel like they have got no bones,” beams Nozinja aka Dog, the producer behind the top acts emerging in Shangaan electro – a hyper frenetic style erupting in South Africa’s Limpopo and Soweto that’s been picked up by Honest Jon’s for this 12-track collection.

With its uplifting chants and verses, Shangaan is an evolution of folk and traditional styles, with djembes replaced by synthesised marimba, battered drum machines and keyboard melodies straight from ’80s kung fu video games. Loose-limbed cuts from artists like Zinja Hlungwani, BBC (Black Beautiful Culture) and the masked Tshetsha Boys are tested at weekly outdoor dance-offs hosted by Nozinja, evoking mythical early Jamaican soundclashes – only sped up to a rapid fire 180BPM. It’s all a bit disorientating at first but the YouTube clips of the shamanistic dance workouts are the missing visual link. “If you play it slow they won’t dance,” Nozinja’s mission statement adds.

Fiercely original and localised to the shanty towns, Shangaan is more than a mere world music curio – it’s real ghetto-tech forged in corrugated metal shacks, without the Ass ’n’ Titties you get from DJ Assault and co. The tracks are joyous, light on their feet and are summed up by the title of BBC’s opening track: Ngunyuta Dance, translated as The Shake-Your-Behind Dance. Here’s proof the sound of South Africa isn’t just vuvuzelas and Die Antwoord.

First published in state.ie