RhythmExploring: Shangaan, South Africa

Shangaan Electro | RhythmTravels.com

RhythmExploring: Shangaan, South Africa

Shangaan Electro is the new wave of Afro-futuristic music and dance coming from Soweto that is making the delights of music listeners around the world. Hard to get unnoticed. One of the best things happening to this new genre is how it organically developed and grow inside an incredibly one man´s vision, Richard Mthetwa a.k.a. Nozinja. He is the driving force behind this high-speed dance phenomenon that is rising from the townships of Limpopo province into South African´s clubs. The periphery is now the center.

Tsekeleke – Nozinja [Warp 2014]

Engineer, producer, composer, record label owner, marketing manager, singer. Nozinja is all this but is also an ambassador and an educator by raising the flag of pioneer of the reinvention of Shangaan music.

I’m a scout for talent. When you look at the person, you must see the artist.” Nozinja

Maybe there´s some unknown law of attraction that can justifies the contact between visionary artists like Nozinja and Damon Albarn´s Honest Jon’s shop/label team. In 2010 they released the compilation “Shangaan Electro – New Wave Dance Music From South Africa” almost like an answer to the pastiche of South African World Cup songs. In 2012 the same imprint released the album “Shangaan Shake“, reuniting the commissioned reworks of artists like Hype Williams, Theo Parrish, Peverelist, juke dons DJ Rashad (Read Q&A with Dj Rashad) and DJ Spinn, Burnt Friedman, Ricardo Villalobos  or Actress just to name a few,  and their unique takes on this exotic 180 BPM contagious rhythms.

Tshetsha Boys – Nwa Pfundla [Honest Jon’s 2010]


Ricardo Villalobos & Max Loderbauer- Meet Tshetsha Boys [Honest Jon’s 2012]


With Nozinja signing for Warp Records in 2014 and interesting support coming from independent labels and artists like John Wizards, Jumping Back Slash, Spoek Mathambo, DRK&LVLY Records (based in S.A.) or Shangaan BANG! (based in UK) which recently released the South African artist Da Multi Snake  (listen here) we can clearly say this genre is being treated like it deserves. No unnecessary hype, no unwanted bandwagon parasites… you know the rest.

In UK´s electronic music circles, Shangaan Electro is fairly well known (thanks to the Honest Jon´s compilation and Nozinja signing to Warp) but on the whole it’s definitely still ‘underground’. Which is a shame, because thanks to it’s tempo and charm, the reaction is almost always positive. From what I know, it’s almost impossible to hear Shangaan Electro playing anywhere but from behind a computer. Talking about collaborations, the Shangaan Shake remix compilation was incredible. It was so great to hear how different artists interpreted the genre but what I’d be most interested to hear is a real collaboration.”  Rob (Shangaan BANG!)


The Music
Rural areas around the world are well known by cultivate and preserve their folklore and Limpopo is no exception. Shangaans work in Johannesburg but their hearts are always in Limpopo, in their families, their traditions, their music. Original Shangaan firstly was played with bass, lead guitar and around 110 BPM, but Nozinja revolutionized it by using synthesized marimbas, a big spectrum of midi sounds, call and response singing usually in Tsonga language, sampling only traditional Tsonga sounds and making the tempo goes fast from 160 to 190 BPM which opened space for the the frenetic dance performances.

Thomas Chauke is a perfect example of Tsonga/Shangaan traditional music from late 80´s.

Penny Penny is by excellence one of the references of Shangaan Disco from early 90´s.

Shangaan Electro | RhythmTravels.com

The Dance
Shangaan, the name given to the people of Gaza Empire (foto) are now part of The Tsongas, a diverse population that includes the Shangaans, Thonga, Tonga and several smaller ethnic groups which influence the Shangaan Electro dance such are the Zulu dance ceremonies, Xibelani dance or the Pantsula dance, a more urban street culture emerged in the 50´s and 60´s. The performers are often wearing costumes and masks resembling fertility rituals where they use it to better interact with the public leading most of times to a great group communion on stage.

Xibelani Dance


Shangaan dancers, they dance, they can go on for almost an hour with that speed, without getting tired. When you see them dance you feel like they have got no bones.”  Nozinja

Shangaan Electro | RhythmTravels.com

The Food
While Shangaan music is getting more and more synthesized, that is no reason for any lack of soul and emotion on it. Quite
on the contrary, old generations are embracing this 21th century makeover and using it also to their daily life celebrations.
If you are planning to go to South Africa don’t forget to experience their hospitality and to taste their delicious plates, specially Limpopo´s gastronomy. The fertile soils yield diverse ingredients such as tea plantations, coffee, maize, litchis, peaches, tomatoes, potatoes just to name a few of what you will find. To this add cattle, sheep, fresh fish from Limpopo River and spices that will gently play with your senses and taste buds. The land of Baobab trees and large open spaces will enchant you since the arrival.

Written by Filipe Ribiero