The melding of traditional music with electronic dance music is usually a tricky proposition. If done poorly, the result can sound like some awkward, Deep Forest type of new age cheese-fest. If done skillfully, the results can be a joyous melding of cultural foundations with contemporary creativity. The key factor, as is often the case with traditional or folk genres more generally, is the knowledge and authority of the musician in question. Does the person attempting to tap into the traditional genre wield sufficient wisdom regarding the tradition? Is this a well-founded interpretation, or crass cultural appropriation? In the impressive case of Nozinja, we are clearly dealing with a producer with deep roots in the traditional aspects of the music and enough contemporary creativity to keep us dancing for a long time to come.
Nozinja hails from the Limpopo region of South Africa. With South Africa’s rich and varied tradition of house music, one might suspect something from Nozinja more closely resembling straight-forward house, but this is certainly not the case. Nozinja Lodge, his first for Warp records, offers a style apparently known as “shangaan electro”, and a formidable style it is. Traditional, multi-part harmonized vocals are laid over skittering synths, driving bass lines, and all manner of high energy beats. The effect is often manic, but in a compulsory, ‘I must dance now’ sort of way.
Opener ‘Nwa Baloyi’ sets things off at a nice, frantic pace. It is not clear if it is Nozinja himself doing these vocals, or primarily guests, but they are soulful and propulsive. Third track oddball ‘Baby Do U Feel Me’ is perhaps the most disconcerting track on Nozinja Lodge, sounding like a spun-out version of the music from an underwater level on one of the Super Mario Brothers games. There is a definite 1980s chip tune vibe to many of these tracks that could be a make or break characteristic for many listeners. If you enjoy feeling like you have been up all night drinking Red Bull and Jägermeister, popping Adderall, and playing old NES games, than Nozinja Lodge might be just what you are looking for. Although this music is clearly deeply rooted in the traditional music of Limpopo, there is also a bizarre, futuristic quality to it that is undeniable.
Apparently there is a strong visual and live component to Nozinja. Dancers and vocalists evidently join him on stage to make an intense, bacchanalian live show. I have elected not to investigate this element of his performance any further, as this is supposed to be a review of this particular music, but one can easily imagine the stage show that could be constructed around music like this. I imagine lots of confetti, costumes, and sequins. This is party music without any doubt. I cannot imagine anyone sitting completely still to this music, even if they did not like it. Its oddity and manic qualities will likely win as many fans as detractors, but there is no denying the energy and personality in this music.
Nozinja provides his own strange spin on contemporary dance music that reminds is that there is far more to these genres than what is currently belching out of the Electric Daisy Carnival. This stuff would deeply confuse fans of Tiësto, and might confuse fans of traditional South African music just as much. A listener with an open mind, a tolerance for video game music, and a great deal of energy for dancing will find in Nozinja Lodge a unique, carnivalesque sound.