It’s been almost five years since Nyege Nyege Tapes released their The sounds of Sisso compilation, a document of Tanzania’s thriving singeli scene that proved instrumental in bringing the genre to the international stage. The album showcased the sheer speed of movement, regularly exceeding 200 beats per minute while throwing synth loops and sampling soukous music to unrecognizable heights. Though Western audiences likely associate such tempos with fringe techno offshoots like gabber, the singeli variants featured on this compilation – even the raw DIY brand emerging from the record’s titular Sisso studio – were marked by their pop inclinations. Anchoring a sugar rush of hyperactive melodies and dense electronic percussion, the Auto-Tuned rap verses offered a welcome sense of familiarity, despite their haste. If you’ve lost your place in the maelstrom of MIDI snares and horns, a catchy chorus was never far away, reaching out a friendly hand for a grasp.
The total absence of voice over Mr Mixondo, the debut album by 19-year-old producer DJ Travella, is a striking departure from the style of singeli that Nyege Nyege diehards are probably used to, especially as the label’s latest compilation of Tanzanian music has specifically highlighted the MCs. The label presents Travella as a herald of the “new wave” of singeli, creating personal and instrumental work shaped by deep influences. While still suitable for wild outdoor dance parties, his music is as much about the spiritual connection between producer and laptop as it is about the dance floor. Singeli has long flirted with a cyberpunk aesthetic, with MCs adopting pseudonyms inspired by antivirus software and memory cards, but Travella’s take on the genre is particularly rooted in the digital world.
His previous work existed only on YouTube in the form of live screen recordings, revealing his semi-improvised creative process in real time. In each video, he loads a large number of samples into the VirtualDJ software, mixing them to create hypnotic and perpetually transformed beats. Mr Mixondo is the end result of this intense cross-sectional study of singeli himself, breaking and rewriting the rules of a style that already challenges the uninitiated.
His compositions are dense and tightly coiled, weaving loops that draw on hip-hop and Atlanta R&B in twisting patterns, phrases disappearing from the mix as quickly as they slip into it. But it’s the record’s miniature breakdowns, in which a track’s samples and synths break out of their skeletal rhythm, that unleashed its most cathartic bursts of energy. On “Crazy Beat Umeme 2,” he hits the kill switch on the track’s frenzy without even a fade, rolling out breakbeats that abruptly break away from the prevailing time signature. It’s an Aphex-ian prank that’s likely to trip dancers and headphones listeners alike, diffusing the tension for a brief period before returning to Travella’s solid wall of sound. On “21212,” he recklessly adjusts the pitch of a woodblock percussion sample, forcing the melody of an instrument that rarely serves a purpose beyond crafting the beat. Backed by eerie, meandering synth tracks, this track is also punctuated by abrupt starts and stops, slipping like a video buffer.