Album Review: Nozinja – Nozinja Lodge
Warp’s latest signing is the godfather apparent of South Africa’s Shangaan Electro sound, a hectic fusion of digital production and the traditional song writing of the Shangaan people. With the Western world’s thirst for new global scenes to plunder as active as ever, it’s hard not to approach a project like this without a certain trepidation – is it more worthy than worthwhile?
Fortunately, on any terms you want to take, the Warp debut from Nozinja is an absolute belter. There have been a couple of Shangaan Electro compilations in recent years that have introduced the concept of the music, but have suffered from a lack of dynamic, with every track heading out the traps at warp speed with little in the way of let up. Nozinja avoids this pitfall by turning in something closer to a traditional album. Nozinja Lodge opens with the crazy energy of opener Nwa Baloyi, a joy of life affirming vocals, leaping basslines and thin, rolling snares that ratatat like a woodpecker with a steel beak. Then, refreshingly, it drops the pace on Mitshetshoi, where Nozinja’s vocals are augmented by a female choir, their chants and ad libs swelling around his choppy funk. Further in Xihukwani has the arpeggiated bassline and optimistic synths of an 80s Italo smash, sped up and hustled along by those crazed flurries of snare drum. In short, the album breaths, flexes and moves with a depth that’s been missing from the Shangaan albums that have so far made it to the UK.
Nozinja’s sonic palette is a major part of his appeal. His sounds appear to be almost entirely drawn from keyboard pre-sets– as though he’s literally selected the instruments ‘steel drum’ ‘horn section’ and ‘African percussion’ from an old Casio bank, then played them like a demon. There is little use of delay and the barest of reverb, with every element stabbing into the mix then gone, all flab jettisoned. The closest comparison I can make is to the joy and innocence of early house records, created when producers were more interested in capturing soul than spending hours dicking about with sound design. That’s not to suggest that Nozinja’s tunes aren’t complex; it’s just that in his case the complexity comes from the playing itself, layers of rhythm rotating around one and other, runs of melodic quicksilver flipping and quick stepping in an intricate, head spinning dance. If EDM is built from spacebar pushers paying engineers to make their sample packs sound huge, Nozinja is the palette cleansing inverse – he's got all the musical proficency and none of the studio bullshit.
After 43 too short minutes of heart thumping goodness, it becomes apparent; Nozinja hasn’t just given the best case for Shangaan Electro the UK has heard, he’s turned in a genuine, crazy, and utterly fresh classic. 9/10