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LIVE REPORT: Nozinja
Sharon O'Connell , August 4th, 2015 10:42

Sharon O'Connell reports from the Barbican in London

"Ladies and gentlemen, we are the fastest!" declares Richard 'Nozinja' Mthetwa with a broad grin, and audience onstage participation soon proves him right. However enthusiastic (not to mention brave) the two groups of volunteers may be, they're nowhere near a match for his three dancers, whose staggering energy has them executing feet-blurring kicks and leaps and wiggling their pleats-accentuated rumps with mesmeric fluidity for a full hour, to music that buzzes around the 180bpm mark.

Dance is the crucially visual element in any set of Shangaan electro, the thrillingly overdriven, almost manic sound that mixes South African kwaito, Tsonga disco and township jive with local house, and of which fortysomething, former mobile-phone shop magnate Nozinja is the don. Unlike much Western contemporary dance music, it's not bass-heavy. In fact, with its ringing, synthesised marimba and liquid electric guitar lines, it's strikingly trebly, which is what gives this Shangaan street music its irresistible, ebullient thrust.

Tonight's minimal set-up – on a temporary stage in a gallery area – means the focus is entirely on the music and those moving to it. A tall, portly figure dressed in a vivid floral tunic with pink feathers sprouting from the shoulders and an animal-skin headband, Nozinja (it means 'no dogs') is equal parts live mixer, soulfully booming singer, MC and stage manager. Leaning on recent Warp album Nozinja Lodge, he builds the set to a peak of frantically bubbling abandonment calling out first for women and then men to step up and try their dancing luck. An initial embarrassed bro' huddle soon sees the latter letting rip with a range of startlingly free expression, encouraged by the rest of us, whooping encouragement from the floor. "Shake it!" Nozinja commands – and they give it their best.

When Shangaan electro first reached the UK, its raw originality scorched the tips of unaccustomed ears. It's easy to see why it appealed to the likes of Ricardo Villalobos and Theo Parrish, whose interpretations appeared on the first Honest Jon's compilation, and why Pearson Sound chose to include a song by Tiyiselani Vomaseve on his 2011 Fabric mix. Add that freshness to the indigenous dress (the two women dancers are wearing their Converse with hip–enhancing xibelani skirts) and outbursts of (the male dancer's) ululation in tonight's live mix, and questions about our tendency to exoticise the music of other cultures shift into focus.

But then, this seductive music is a triumphant hybrid, itself borne of various cultural crosscurrents and as weirdly futuristic as it is traditional, while Nozinja has often spoken of his desire to take Limpopo culture to the world. In which case, a monolithic London arts centre is as good a place to spread the word as any.

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