It’s been almost five years since Nyege Nyege Tapes released its Sounds of Sisso compilation, a document of Tanzania’s flourishing singeli scene that proved instrumental in putting the genre on the international stage. The album spotlighted the movement’s sheer velocity, regularly pushing past 200 beats per minute while pitching synth loops and sampled soukous music up to unrecognizable heights. Though Western audiences likely associate such tempos with fringe techno offshoots like gabber, the singeli variants featured on that 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, Auto-Tuned rap verses offered a welcome sense of familiarity, despite their haste. If you lost your place in the maelstrom of snares and MIDI horns, a catchy chorus was never far away, extending a friendly hand to grab onto.
The complete absence of vocals on 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 likely accustomed to, especially since the label’s last compilation of Tanzanian music specifically highlighted MCs. The label bills Travella as a herald of singeli’s “new wave,” creating personal, instrumental work shaped by far-reaching influences. Though still suited for delirious outdoor dance parties, his music is as much about the spiritual connection between producer and laptop as it is the dancefloor. 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 especially entrenched 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 deck of samples into VirtualDJ software, shuffling them in and out to create hypnotic, perpetually transforming beats. Mr Mixondo is the end result of this intense, cross-sectional study of singeli itself, breaking and rewriting the rules of a style that’s already challenging to the uninitiated.
His compositions are dense and tightly wound, braiding loops that draw from Atlanta hip-hop and R&B into tortuous patterns, phrases disappearing from the mix as quickly as they slide in. But it’s the record’s miniature breakdowns, in which a track’s samples and synths slough off their skeletal beat, that set up its most cathartic bursts of energy. On “Crazy Beat Umeme 2,” he hits the kill switch on the track’s frenzy without so much as a fade-out, deploying breakbeats that abruptly peel away from the time signature in effect. It’s an Aphex-ian prank that’s apt to trip up dancers and headphone listeners alike—diffusing the tension for a brief period before careening back into Travella’s solid wall of sound. On “21212,” he recklessly adjusts the pitch of a woodblock percussion sample, coercing melody from an instrument that rarely serves a purpose beyond fleshing out rhythm. Backed by eerie, snaking synth leads, this track is also punctuated by brusque starts and stops, glitching like a buffering video.