nozinjaThere is as much to treasure about Nozinja Lodge as a statement of where the music industry finds itself in 2015 as there is with the addictive music itself. Nozinja – aka Richard Mthethwa – hails from the poverty-stricken South African province of Limpopo, and has become the talisman for the burgeoning genre hybrid known as Shangaan Electro. He may not have originated the style – which formed as a fusion between folk Shangaan traditions, kwaito house and Tsonga disco – but after his tracks received remix treatment from established figures including Theo Parrish and Ricardo Villalobos, it was he who the mighty Warp Records turned to when they decided to give Shangaan Electro its biggest release platform to date.

Perhaps inevitably, what results is the shiniest, most cleanly-produced version so far of this music. The hyperactive, fidgeting, almost MIDI-style electro patterns that infuse most of Nozinja Lodge’s 10 tracks give plenty of indication why for a few years this has been an underground movement that luminaries such as Caribou and The Field have been tapping for ideas. The cleaning-up process has done two things: on the one hand, it exposes the fairly uncomplicated electronic sounds for what they are; on the other, it gives them a warmth and accessibility that previous takes on Shangaan Electro have failed to achieve. Take, for example, ‘Xihukwani’, one of the admittedly limited-release singles that preceded the album. Topped and tailed with a distinctively South African vocal exchange, it spends its three minutes exploring a disarmingly simple synth line in a way that may for some prove unsatisfyingly straightforward, but regardless will leave you with a spring in your step.

Perhaps the two most striking tracks here come either side of that one. First comes ‘Baby Do U Feel Me’, which stylistically is the closest that this music has come to a crossover moment. The essence of Nozinja’s sound is intact – the bodyshifting synth jive, the flittering rhythms, the high BPM – but it is spliced with a vocal sample (the only English language vocal on Nozinja Lodge) which Nozinja laces through the track like he’s producing a UK funky or future garage track. It’s a combination that as I write seems unlikely to work, but it is a clear album highlight. Later, the wired, jittery ‘Tsekeleke’, which gained a level of attention last summer, is a much purer form of the music that has brought Nozinja to this elevated position. The pulsing, thrilling, futurist track features a high-pitched lead vocal that matches the twitching energy of the music, and remains the single best example of the Shangaan Electro sound.

Elsewhere, there are more established styles of South African music on display, in particular the call-and-response on the delightful ‘Vatswelani’. On the rare moments when ‘Nozinja Lodge’ slows its pace – notably for album closer ‘Jaha’ – little is gained. The excitement that Nozinja has brought from such a modest background to this unimaginably wide audience evidently relies on its tempo and its ability to raise your mood and move your feet. Full credit must be given to Warp Records for once again taking the time and money to invest their extensive influence and following in this unexplored musical world, and with good fortune, both Nozinja himself and many more who have heard his vibrations can capitalise on this rich opportunity.

Release Date 01/06/2015 (Warp)

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Max Pilley

I'm a refugee in Manchester, having successfully escaped Birmingham in 2007. I'm a soon-to-be journalism student, used to edit the music section of the Manchester Uni paper, and have done a little radio production to boot. I've been adding bits and pieces to Silent Radio since 2012, mostly gig reviews, but a few albums too. Also hoping now to get involved with the brilliant radio show. When doing none of that, you can usually find me at some gig venue somewhere around town.