The Magic of Music

LIKE WATER RUNNING through hands and slipping through fingers, music slithers through us.  It can’t be seen or held, just engulfed and ingested.  Sometimes it’s hastily gulped down and hardly appreciated, while other moments it soothes and relieves, quenching a deep thirst tucked away in the pockets of our inner being.

Music is ubiquitous and shapeless like air, breathing rhythms and melodies into the disparate peoples and places of the world.  Every culture and subculture has a style of musical representation that identifies that group of individuals, their traditions, and overarching narrative of their history and beliefs.  It’s the story of a community being told through sound, instruments, performance and dance: an ethereal catharsis.

Cultural lines, however, are not strict delineations that restrict the transference of music from one region of the world to another. Rather, these lines are blurry, bleeding and blending into one another to demonstrate that our similarities are much bigger than our differences.

Shangaan Electro: New Wave Dance Music From South Africa, a compilation released on Honest Jon’s Records featuring a variety of artists compiled together by producer Nozinja, represents one example of the worlding of music through its ability to break cultural and geographical definitions and illustrate the innate passion contained within all artists and human beings.

Shangaan Electro‘s signature features are the marimba and it’s high-paced rhythms.  We’re talking 180 BPM.  There is a lo-fi, rudimentary texture to each track, with the introductions feeling like a romp in toyland or the soundtrack to a child’s anime cartoon.  This quickly dissipates into a thumping beat with tropical vibes, Zulu influences, Portuguese post-colonial effects, trilling toms and a sunny, positive, tribal electronic dance energy.

What is especially interesting about Shangaan Electro and Shangaan music in gerenal is its relationship to the Chicago juke/footwork scene, as well as Los Angeles’ Krumpin krews.  Although Shangaan has a faster beat, it shares the same chomping at the bit, stomping at the heels of the beat feel as Chicago juke, with the same lo-fi, DIY intensity displayed in Planet Mu’s Bangs And Works: Vol. 1.  The dance is similar as well, with a free-for-all spasmodic shakedown of legs and arms that all goes down in a dance-off, community setting in front of friends and family. The outfits resemble O.G. Krumper Tommy The Clown, leader of the Clowns, with make-up, masks and costumes becoming a feature just as essential to the performance and tradition as the music and the dance.   

Which style or sound came first is completely irrelevant.  There is no originator or origin, and credit is not given to one side over another as being the first to ‘coin’ that sound.  These three groups could have easily evolved absolutely ignorant of one another’s existence, being located in such distant time zones and hemispheres.  Or, perhaps due to the internet, one style influenced another and so on, as to present different interpretations to a singular entity.  It’s like a plant that may pop up in different forms, shapes, or colors throughout the world, yet maintains a similar DNA, a genus that unites all the different species in a collective family.

It is a prime example of worlding, in that these art forms have transcended language, racial, cultural and temporal barriers to sprout in parallel directions that eventually converge together through the core similarities in their fundamental aesthetics.  The magic of music is on full display, blossoming in a colorful bouquet that exemplifies aspects of the human condition that transcend superficial layers and dive deep into the inalienable characteristics that define man and woman and unite us in the larger scheme of existence.

Enjoy the videos below and really examine how all these disparate cultures can somehow come together, either organically or randomly, to represent not only their individual communities, but also human beings as a whole.

Zinja Hlungwani – N’wagezani My Love

Tshetsha Boys, Shangaan Dancing

Chicago Footwork Battle



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