Shangaan Electro - The South African dance craze that hits almost 190BPM

Producer Richard ‘Nozinja’ Mthethwa discusses the electronic music genre that's spreading worldwide

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Shangaan Electro

‘We want to show fans how to dance to our music; the shaking of the waist, moving arms and legs in the right way. It’s truly an art form at its best and they need to share the feeling of doing it with us.’

Speaking from his home studio in Soweto, producer Richard ‘Nozinja’ Mthethwa is discussing the forthcoming Shangaan Electro tour of the UK which, thanks to a collaboration between club night Highlife and promoters Cry Parrot, will see one of its six dates arrive in Glasgow. Acting as showcase for the South African street dance phenomenon, the tour’s emphasis will be on participation and inclusivity, with audiences given the chance to learn and practice Shangaan moves in a dance workshop taking place before a live performance.

The producer first revolutionised the traditional music of the Shangaan people eight years ago, exchanging its familiar guitar and bass elements for electronic marimba and MIDI keyboards, while raising the tempo to dizzyingly fast speeds of up to 188 beats per minute. Though he admits early sales of his productions were poor, their popularity has grown to reach sales figures of 50,000 a year, earning him a lucrative recording career in the process - Nozinja credits this to his original background as businessman.

‘I ran a number mobile phone shops and they were really successful,’ he explains. ‘I’d had the idea of making music for many years and wanted to explore it but my business came first. Eventually, I felt financially secure enough to get involved; my friend gave me an understanding of how the music industry works but I didn't feel there was any hurry to produce music or prove myself to anybody. I had time to build my own studio from scratch, making it much easier for me to experiment with the sound that I wanted to create.’

Previously unknown outside of home city of Malamulele, in Limpopo, Nozinja’s productions gained the attention of New York afropop producer, Wills Glasspiegel after he discovered them on YouTube videos featuring the hyperactive moves of the Shangaan dancers. Keen to seek out the individual responsible for creating this fresh new strain of African music, Glasspiegel eventually managed to track Nozinja down, which led to the 2010 release of the Shangaan Electro compilation on UK label, Honest Jon’s. Featuring a number of the acts that will perform on the tour, including the clown-masked Tshetsha Boys, vocalists Tiyiselan Vomaseve, Nkata Mawewe and of course, Nozinja himself, amongst others, it was later followed by the ‘Shangaan Shake’, which saw the likes of Theo Parrish, Mark Ernestus, Oni Ayhun and others, remix the original recordings.

‘Both albums did more than we could ever have imagined for Shangaan electro’, says Nozinja. ‘It helped put what we were doing on the map, so that people around the world and particularly those in the UK, could buy our music. It led to a group being formed that could play the unique elements of our sound.’

So, now the music of his people has gone global, does Nozinja feel like an ambassador for the Shangaan?

‘Yes, definitely; I feel honoured to be in a position that allows me to be able to explain our background and take our culture and music around the world. I also really appreciate the fact that my people are thankful and have recognised my efforts’.

Workshop and performance, SWG3, Glasgow, Wed 1 Jul.

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Shangaan Electro

Cry Parrot and the Highlife club night presents an evening showcasing the Shangaan Electro streetdance craze which originated in Soweto and features traditional Shangaan tribal chants and harmonies over hi-octane electro backing tracks. Producer/vocalist Nozinja, plus vocalists Tiyiselani and Nkata Mawewe, the…

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