First Listen: 'Shangaan Electro: New Wave Dance Music From South Africa'

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Shangaan Electro; credit: Sarah Fakray i i

A girl dances to Shangaan music in the Soweto section of Johannesburg, South Africa. Sarah Fakray hide caption

itoggle caption Sarah Fakray
Shangaan Electro; credit: Sarah Fakray

A girl dances to Shangaan music in the Soweto section of Johannesburg, South Africa.

Sarah Fakray

The 2010 FIFA World Cup has attracted nationalists the world over to Johannesburg, South Africa, for a month-long party, marked by the occasional soccer game and punctuated by everyone's favorite new instrument: the plastic vuvuzela horn that's become this summer's unexpected soundtrack.

A few miles down the road, in the township of Soweto, there's another South African sound earning international notice — and this one's a lot easier on the ears. Soweto is one of the hubs for Shangaan dance music, a hyperactive hybrid of the traditional mbira, or thumb piano, and synthesizers that can reach 180 beats per minute. For comparison's sake, Shakira's "Waka Waka" World Cup theme song clocks in at 127 bpm. This is the cheetah of African music.

Perhaps not surprisingly, then, Shangaan music — like those who dance to it — is remarkably light on its feet. The bursts of bass frequencies one would naturally associate with dance music are almost entirely absent, the songs making up in speed what they lack in heft. The approach is almost the polar opposite of Soweto's better-known dance export, the hip-hop-inspired kwaito.

Shangaan may yet catch up to its slower sibling, thanks to the new compilation Shangaan Electro: New Wave Dance Music From South Africa, which collects 12 songs released by the Nozinja Music Productions studio in Soweto between 2006 and 2009 and makes them available worldwide for the first time. The album features six of the most popular Shangaan producers of the moment, including the sister duo Tiyiselani Vomaseve, which won Best Female Artist at last year's South African Traditional Music Awards.

You can hear Shangaan Electro in its entirety here until its CD and vinyl release on July 6. Please leave your thoughts on the album in the comments section below.

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