This year’s month-long Red Bull Music Academy Festival kicked off on Friday night at Brooklyn’s Villain. The exceptionally well curated showcase, billed “Electronic Africa,” featured an international cast of exciting, boundary pushing artists like Zinja Hlungwani, the progenitor of Shagaan electro music who performs as Nozinja, and the Angolan transgender kuduro vocalist Titica. The music and the energy extended by these DJs, producers, vocalists, and dancers affected a feeling of jubilee, total and complete liberation.
The air was electric when I arrived, having just barely missing the first set by Brooklyn based dance producer Dubbel Dutch. The action occurring on stage was mesmerizing and seized the undivided attention of nearly every person in the room. A crew of female dancers were busting a move to Lit City Trax affiliate DJ Spoko‘s propulsive and audaciously wonky dance productions, which inspired the genre of “Bacardi house” nearly a decade ago. At one point, the native South African abandons his post and joins the crew, swerving and shimmying, pausing only to unleash a triumphant yell into the mic. His eyes remained closed for a few moments after, soaking up the extremity of the moment.
Titica delivered the only set absent of accompanying dancers, and she hardly needed any, considering the passion and power communicated during her set. Her performance was intensely physical, skillfully vocalizing and hollering in both Portuguese and Bantu, and it wasn’t long before she’d worked up quite a sweat. She broke stride only once–to invite a young girl onto the stage, where they proceeded to shuffle and skank together for several minutes.
The following act, Warp signee Nozinja and his utterly phenomenal Shagaan Electro dance crew (a few doubling as backup singers), only intensified the energy Titica had worked so fervently to cultivate. It was exceptionally difficult to witness that vigorously jubilant scene of sound and color and not want to join in. The highlight of the set surely occurred when Nozinja, baring madcap, red moon eyes, relinquished his audio programming duties to lead the party in a chorus of deranged vocal excitations. It was simply too much fun.
Closing act Chief Boima‘s set was more simple, less fire and flare. But the energy persisted as audience members took a more active sense of participation by dancing on stage for extended periods of time. Rest assured, I was one of those inspired spectators.