“Since its founding in 2016, Kampala, Uganda’s Nyege Nyege Tapes label has been a steadfast advocate for underground music from across East Africa, the kind that doesn’t often find its way to Western record labels. Its rapidly growing catalog encompasses a range of styles, from traditional ceremonial drumming and virtuoso mbira performances to hybrids like Otim Alpha’s electro acholi, a digital update of Northern Ugandan Larakaraka wedding songs, or Jako Maron’s electronic experimentswith the traditional Maloya music of Réunion Island. Nyege Nyege is no stranger to the ultra-modern and ultra-globalized: Its sublabel Hakuna Kulala is a showcase for jarringly dissonant, heavily abstracted club music more in keeping with outlets like PAN or Príncipe. But one of the wildest sounds Nyege Nyege has showcased so far is singeli, a blisteringly quick style of dance music from Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania.
To the uninitiated, singeli might sound a little like Latin American merengue played on a cassette deck whose fast-forward button has gotten wedged in place. Tightly syncopated loops of sampled and synthesized drums spin at dizzying speeds while glassy keyboards pump away like the needles of an industrial sewing machine. It’s at once giddy and disorienting, and on Jay Mitta’s Tatizo Pesa, the surprises come fast and thick into something approaching a state of meditative grace.
Nyege Nyege first introduced singeli on 2017’s Sounds of Sissocompilation, a showcase for Sisso Records, a Dar Es Salaam outfit whose unvarnished style is a world away from the glossier strains that can be heard on Tanzanian pop radio. Sisso affiliate Bamba Pana delivered an especially erratic version of singeli with last year’s Poaa, where tempos sometimes reached 200 BPM or more. Some listeners heard an accidental echo of gabber, a pile-driving Dutch strain of trance music, but where gabber’s breakneck cadencetelegraphs an unmistakable menace, Bamba Pana’s tones were less violent—less a brick to the face than the prickle of a foot that has fallen asleep.
The fellow Sisso member Jay Mitta’s Tatizo Pesa is less frenetic—the tempo swings between a mere 180 and 190 BPM—but perhaps even more kinetic, given the elasticity of his sounds. Where Bamba Pana’s loops can sound tinny and lo-fi, Mitta’s layers of percussion samples and stabbing synth leads have a hi-def sheen. Early singeli tended to sample taarab, a style popular in Zanzibar that sometimes has the sticky-sweet flavor of keyboard presets, but Mitta’s production is more nuanced: Once your eyes adjust to the glare, there are shadows lurking just outside the perimeter of the neon glow. On “Dura,” synth pads reminiscent of 1980s quiet-storm R&B are buffeted by ping-pong balls and punctuated by declarative acoustic drum fills; on the title track, the 14-year-old rapper Dogo Janja’s rapid-fire chat trails off into an unexpected explosion of dub delay. The staccato “Mpya Singeri” is virtually nothing but drums and a plunging bass synth, suggesting unexpected echoes of UK club music.
Its true pleasure lies in the details. A meowing cat lends slapstick energy to one song, and in another, a melody briefly lands on the refrain from Stevie Wonder’s “Part Time Lover.” Over the course of its 40-minute run, songs don’t go much beyond the three-minute mark, but “Don Bet” stretches to nearly eight minutes, the patterns switching up every few bars: earsplitting synth stabs, dissonant counterpoints, major-key piano chords, all set to that tireless, mechanized hand-drum bounce. That kind of variety plays out across the album as a whole: From track to track, the subtle shifts in tempo and timbre are enough to make each song feel like a whole new world, even though the elements are roughly the same. Every twist of the kaleidoscope brings a fresh surprise.” > Pitchfork