[sic] Magazine

Nozinja – Nozinja Lodge

Nozinja Lodge is over before you know it; an aural blur of digital synths and vocal chants that whiz across the tympanic membrane like an intense laser of plasticky timbres and ecstatic beats; the sonic transformation of the South African township into a sci-fi paradise; a condensation of the traditional tribal rituals of Nozinja‘s heritage fused with the index of possibilities that modern technology can engender. At once retro and futurist, the dated tone colours contrasting with the timeless melodies and eternal rhythms; the unrelenting tempo burrowing into the body’s central dance system, juking the bones to the marrow.

Like most outside of South Africa, I first became aware of Nozinja and his style of music via Honest Jon‘s excellent Shangaan Electro: New Wave Dance Music From South Africa back in 2010. That record was such a bolt from the blue; its lightning fast BPMs, streams of digital marimba lines and hyper-frenetic beats sounded so rough-hewn and primitive at first, but once my ears became accustomed to Nozinja’s tonal vocabulary I realised this was serious music; seriously fun that is. An artistic vessel that harboured his roots whilst forging a new path for expression, but more importantly, it was really fucking fun to dance to.

I was aware of kwaito, and a few South African DJs like Black Coffee kept reminding me of the thriving house scene over there, but it wasn’t until DJ Mujava‘s classic ‘Township Funk’ that I really opened my eyes/ears to how the South African dance scene had evolved since the more laid back, disco, hip-hop and R&B influenced music of the 90s. Last year a ‘protégé’ of Nozinja and collaborator of Mujava, DJ Spoko, released the superb War God which acted as a convenient way to sample his own brand of so-called ‘Bacardi house’, but Nozinja might have even bettered that with Nozinja Lodge, producing more than just a collection of tracks that provide an overview of his style, instead crafting a surprisingly well-rounded and cohesive album (it helps in that regard that this album is about half the length of War God). Sure, drop any of these tracks into a mix and chances are they will completely slay the dancefloor, but this record has the depth to function as more than a top quality selection for DJs. (Okay, it might be a bit one-pace [blisteringly fast mostly] but at least it never drags, and check out RP Boo‘s MixAfrica for verification of the track’s efficacy in a mix.)

This might be a bit presumptuous, but I’m guessing that Nozinja hasn’t studied Johann Joseph Fux‘s treatise on counterpoint Gradus ad Parnassum, nor is it likely he has analysed the fugues of J.S. Bach or the motets of Palestrina, yet nevertheless the man has an exceptional ear for building up melodic lines; an undeniable talent for weaving together the syncopated synthesiser tones found in his tracks into funky nuggets of vibrant joy. Obviously, he lacks the harmonic nous of the Rennaissance and Baroque composers who took polyphonic writing to another level in terms of complexity, but much like the folk music of the Aka pygmies or the Shona people, there is an innate understanding of the power of layering certain tones into patterns and how to arrange them among multiple voices for maximum effect. Whether Nozinja uses rough digital approximations of acoustic instruments like the marimba, organ, piano, flute, guitar, strings and brass, or the pure artifice of the synthetic combinations of sine, square, triangle and sawtooth waves, the effect is the same; a locked-in groove that never lets up, perpetually driving the music towards dance Nirvana. The call-and-response chants, female choruses and occasional cartoony vocals adding to the heady concoction of outmoded timbres and glorious Technicolor sunshine. Sunshine is the only word that seems applicable to this record. In a time when so much dance music is dark and gloomy this is an outstanding beacon for the brighter side of the street; happy songs for happy people.

If Nozinja can continue churning out music of this standard for the foreseeable future then I have no doubt his star will rise. Sadly I don’t think he’ll garner the same level of recognition as the most successful African exports of the past like Fela Kuti, Youssou N’Dour, Salif Keita or The Bhundu Boys, but I can see the occasional Jools Holland performance and regular Glastonbury sets in the future leading to a cult status in Britain akin to that of artists like Tinariwen, Amadou & Mariam, Toumani Diabaté, King Sunny Adé and the recently rediscovered William Onyeabor.

Finally, I’ve got to hand it to Warp. After all these years their A&R department still know how to spot potential, and when to sign up artists at the right time. This is probably the best (i.e. my favourite) full-length they have released since Oneohtrix Point Never‘s R Plus Seven, and even more impressively, it is about as different in emotional content and artistic objectives from that album as possible, yet in some ways manages to be equally as beautiful.