- Uncompromisingly fast singeli.
- By some counts, Dar Es Salaam is the ninth fastest-growing city in the world. As the most populous city in Tanzania, it sets the cultural tone for much of this region, like it did with bongo flava, a homegrown fusion of R&B, reggae, dansi and taarab. Now the young genre called singeli, which also emerged from the city, is having its global moment. But don't look here for laid-back bongo flava vibes.
Singeli is defined by its speed—the BPM range is between 180 and 300, and sometimes more.
Singeli is by no means underground. The sound has made its mark both in the streets and over the airwaves, with mainstream singeli artists racking up hundreds of thousands of views on YouTube. But Dar Es Salaam fosters an experimental underbelly to the scene made up of artists and collectives with ambitions to be heard around the world. That's where the Ugandan label Nyege Nyege Tapes comes in. The Kampala collective organizes Nyege Nyege Festival, a four-day international music festival on the shores of the Nile. The label itself is dedicated to "exploring, producing and releasing outsider music from around [East Africa] and beyond."
Uingizaji Hewa, by the singeli producer Duke, embraces this outsider mentality and occupies the edges of sonic acceptability. That's a compliment. The opening track, "Naona Laaah," features vocals from the livewire MCZO, howling and yell-rapping over scrambling snares and what might be triple-speed 8-bit music or a fragmented jingle. The carnivalesque rhythms are consistent with mainstream singeli artists like Dulla Makabila, but harsh MCing and frantic melodies set Duke's work apart from palatable pop jams. Unfamiliar with Swahili, I'm ignorant to what's being said, but after eight minutes I totally get the point. It's impossible to keep still while listening.
There's not a lot of breathing room on Uingizaji Hewa, but the melodic, triplets-heavy "Duke 4" slows down and echoes a footwork rhythm. Duke is known for pushing the singeli genre in a slower direction (still fast), dubbing the offshoot "hip-hop singeli." However, a couple of these songs, including "Sing4444444," rest a little too comfortably in catchy repetition. Without a diversity of rhythms or an MC to give direction they end up sounding halfway-there compared with the rest of the turbulence. The album reaches a fever pitch on its last track, "Kasema Kihindi Bit," where a sped-up vocal wails in and out over an unrelenting barrage of layered percussion. Uingizaji Hewa is one of singeli's pace-setting records—if you're still not listening, it's up to you to catch up.
01. Naona Laaah feat. Don Tach, MCZO
03. Beat Mixa Duke
04. Duke 4
05. Duke Bit Puyo
06. M Lap feat. Dogo Liz
08. Kula Kihindi Duke
09. Kasema Kihindi Bit