Last Thursday I had an opportunity that is rarely found these days; to see a gig in a genre of music I had never before experienced. For those of you who aren’t aware Shangaan Electro are a South African dance group who have taken elements from local traditional music and mixed it with various elements of contemporary dance music, with frankly marvellous results.
The first thing I noticed after the group took the stage was the genuine party atmosphere present in the Sugar Club (which is so often the go to venue for fringe or bizarre evenings such as the one which had just gotten underway) and it was clear the sizeable crowd were all here to dance the night away. As for the group itself Shangaan Electro were comprised of DJ Nozinja Mthethwa aka “Dog” and a two female, two male vocal/dance ensemble.
As the music began it became evident that South African dance music was a very different proposition to what we are used to in Europe, various drumbeats and different percussion instruments took the place of the more instrumental hook based offerings that we are familiar with, and while these were still present to varying degrees they were much more understated and definitely took a back seat to the booming sound of constant drums. This music is frantic and charged and it is almost impossible not to be swept away by its sheer energy; this is hardly surprising when you consider that the concert started with a song containing roughly 180 beats per minute! Considering that most dance typically contains between 120-140bpm it’s not hard to see why the urge to move is so infectious.
Dog tells us regularly throughout the show that we will finish at 189bpm and gradually cranks up the speed, with the crowd alternately chanting “189” and “Shangaan Electro” when prompted to by the charismatic DJ. As for the rest of the group they are in an almost constant state of movement; alternating between singing, freestyle dancing, synchronized dancing and whistle-blowing. All members have whistles and while I’m sure on some level it has something to do with helping them keep track of what dance moves to do next it added to the overall sound immensely.
We are hitting around the 185bpm mark when the group asks for three ladies to join them onstage to “see if they can shake it” and it doesn’t take long for the three volunteers to step forward. Each is paired with one of the group and they are taken through a quick crash course on how to move like a member of Shangaan. The results are almost instantaneous, unfortunately the same cannot be said for the male participants when the experiment was repeated a few minutes later but again such was the festival/party feeling present in the air that it made no difference; the crowd and group were feeding off each other and having a fantastic time while doing so.
After this experiment in audience participation we are finally ready to reach the 189bpm mark, the group are moving even faster and more energetically than ever before despite the length of time onstage. The crowds’ chants become even more frequent and practically everyone in the building is dancing right in front of the stage. The finale of the show involves Dog, who had been hidden away behind his turntables moving to front and centre of the stage to show off his moves which produces a fantastic reaction from the crowd.
Shangaan Electro are a bit of a difficult proposition if truth be told; I simply cannot imagine that there would be too many instances where I would choose to stick on one of their records in my free time. In that way they are a bit like The Flaming Lips, meaning that their live show is simply so entertaining that it more than makes up for any shortcomings that the group may have present or reservations you yourself may have on the genre of music they play. For that reason I would strongly suggest that if the opportunity ever arises again that you get yourself to a show, the athleticism, feel good factor and music on display when combined will make it more than worth your while.