Nozinja: The world at his feet

Gone global: Nozinja in his home studio. (Paul Botes)

Gone global: Nozinja in his home studio. (Paul Botes)

Shangaan producer Richard Mthethwa, aka Nozinja, has developed his oeuvre since his production house’s music was compiled for Honest Jon’s 2010 album, Shangaan Electro: New Wave Dance Music from South Africa.

At the time, the compilation received rave reviews, describing with adjectives like “dazzling”, “thrilling” and “astounding”.

However, a lot has happened since 2010, so two weeks ago the Mail & Guardian sat down with Mthetwa to chat, before he was to headline the opening of the South Africa season in France, a cultural exchange programme for artists of both countries.

Mthethwa and his dance crews have seen the world since the M&G last touched base with him.

With full tours of Europe, the United State and Australia already completed, Mthethwa is a road warrior now.

“I have three European tours set up between now and November. ‘KoppiKoppi’ phoned me,” he says, tripping up on the name of South Africa’s largest music festival, Oppikoppi. “They said they wanted me to play this year.

“I said, sorry, I have to rehearse for my European tours.”

In addition to the touring since 2010, there have been a substantial number of releases coming out of the Shangaan Electro project.

First came the album, Ndzi Teke Riendzo, by Shangaan gospel artist Foster Manganyi on Honest Jon’s, and then, starting in August 2011, the label began releasing 12-inch singles with remixes and edits of the Shangaan Electro material.

The full series of remixes would see the Shangaan Electro tracks reworked by some of the world’s most ground-breaking and exceptional musicians — Burnt Friedman, Mark Ernestus, Oni Ayhun, Anthony “Shake” Shakir, Peverelist and Actress among others.

Burnt Friedman created one of the highlights of the remix series with his Burnt Friedman Meets Zinja Hlungwani, a dubby masterpiece.

The Knife’s Ayhun sampled various tracks on the compilation to make Oni Ayhun Meets Shangaan Electro, and Detroit techno wizard Shakir reworked BBC’s Ngunyuta Dance into Anthony Shake Shakir Meets BBC, an electrified and tribalist house rhythm, amping up the kicks and shaking the percussion with a Latin shuffle.

Bristolian bass maverick Peverelist reimagined the Shangaan sound in divergent fashion, with a magical, swinging house revision of Tshetsha Boys, which has an industrial clanging edge to contrast with its warm beat.

The full collection of remixes was eventually released by Honest Jon’s as a double disc compilation, Shangaan Shake, in February last year.

Asked about the remixes, Mthethwa says his favourites were the Ernestus and Friedman mixes, especially the Ernestus one, which is closer to South Africa’s kwaito and house scene in sound.

Mthethwa and Honest Jon’s have since parted ways and Mthethwa is about to ink a deal with a new international label for a new Shangaan Electro album due out in the middle of next year.

To add to that, Dan Snaith of Caribou and Daphni fame has just released a limited edition 12-inch of Mthethwa’s music under the Xitsonga Dance moniker and has another planned shortly, according to Mthethwa.

“Nozinja is the first person whose music I’ve released who I didn’t know previously as a friend,” says Snaith.

Asked if he would like to have remixed some of the Shangaan Electro material, Snaith says Honest Jon’s approached him but he was on tour and couldn’t fit it in.

“It’s a big regret,” he says.
“Now that so much has been done with remixes of Shangaan Electro music, I think that boat has sailed.

“It’s time for people to appreciate more of Nozinja’s unreleased (at least in the UK/Europe) music,” says Snaith.

And for Nozinja, it’s time to get those dance crews rehearsing. The world is at their feet — or should that be fancy footwork?

Lloyd Gedye

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