x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Various artists: Shangaan Electro: New Wave Dance Music From South Africa

Music this entertaining, soulful and trashy deserves a dedicated club night in every city on earth.


That "various artists" tag is a bit misleading. The Shangaan Electro sound - a hyperactive, synth-pop version of up-tempo South African dance music - emanates from a single studio in Limpopo province. The studio is owned and operated by Zinja Hlungwani, who happens to be credited as the main performer on four tracks here. Elsewhere, he's at work behind the scenes, as producer, song-writer, sideman or creative inspiration. Consequently, there isn't much in the way of actual variety in this compilation: it sticks at 180 bpm throughout and keeps recycling the same three or four ringtone-friendly keyboard presets. That said, it's hard to see how the Shangaan sound could fail to catch on anywhere it was made available. Music this entertaining, soulful, trashy and, to appearances, easily imitated, deserves a dedicated club night in every city on earth. The breakneck synth-marimba arpeggios spin on and on, vaguely recalling the soundtrack to Akira. Snippy little helium samples evoke happy hardcore, and Hlungwani's performers deliver their call-and-response chants with a hoarse urgency that all but pins the listener to the wall. Hlungwani himself, oddly, has a rather languid and dignified R&B voice that seems to run counter to his whole aesthetic. On the other hand, it isn't entirely obvious how the various parts of the Shangaan concept fit together. Take the Tshetsha Boys: they dress like Slipknot, in masks and boiler-suits. They dance like Felix the Cat. I defy anyone to look them up on YouTube without thinking what a big, strange place the world is.

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