The Breakneck Electronic Sound of DJ Travella
Photo courtesy of DJ Travella.

The Breakneck Electronic Sound of DJ Travella

The 19-year-old Tanzanian DJ and producer talks to us about his hyper-speed Singeli beats and reaching a global audience.

Over the last decade, Singeli has frantically bleeped, rattled and boomed its way out of the ghettos of Tanzania to spark attention across the globe. In the hands of 19-year-old DJ Travella , this alien strain of underground dance music has been given a new lease of life. Ugandan record label Nyege Nyege ’s latest bright young thing has the manic wizardry and steely self-belief to take the sound one step beyond.

“Singeli is about sex,” he says “Some tracks speak of love, but Singeli is about life.” Originating from the streets of Dar-Es Salaam, Travella’s full-blooded dedication to chaotic BPMs allows the music and its creator to flourish in symbiosis. If he had to program a robot to inseminate a human being, Singeli would be the digital code.

Speeding along at the rate of an amphetamine-soaked gabba rave, the music has intense, no-nonsense tempos that have already become the blistering sound of a nation. Blaring out of radios, street parties, clubs and festivals, Singeli is the rhythm to everyday life in this part of East Africa.

Travella is well aware of the power his music possesses: ”People need to dance,” he says. “When they listen to my beats they get so buzzed by the speed and my mixing — I make them go crazy.” As he clambers, punk rock style, to the top of speaker stacks at a festival, kicking his flip flops into a wild crowd, you get a real sense of music as a means to totally disengage. This is the soundtrack to oblivion.

Singeli rushes at the dancer with a force of seismic proportions. A generation that is determined to express itself beyond the dance floor revels in its incessant beats and pummeling rage. As youth culture explodes across East Africa and new worlds are being created, Travella’s giddy earworms induce the deranged state of a new order to things; of hypersonic joy.

Listening to DJ Travella’s track "Chapa Bakola Music Bass," it is as if structural power is being consumed by a plague of electric locusts. It is a rebellion that expresses itself in a gleeful rush, one that can no longer be controlled. “When I play live I watch everything as I mix — the faces, the eyes. I see how their brains make big energy. It’s love!,” he says “No one can sit down.”

These performances have not gone unnoticed. Travella has been swerved by the mainstream press but has picked up significant fans with a cult-like stature of their own. Followed by maniac-comedian Eric Andre , Travella is obviously connecting with the people who are not only happy floating away to the outer realms of the mainstream, but those who also relish the heavy crash of falling through its ceiling.

Avant-garde super-hipster producer Arca recently played one of Travella’s tracks to a loved-up festival crowd in Mexico City, and has been in touch regarding a future collaboration that could take DJ Travella straight to the fashion after-party. It would be unlikely to distract this young Tanzanian from a mission that he feels deeply committed to: “I want to help underground MC’s, to pull up my friends, to become a big producer”.

When talking about his songwriting process and how his music differs from the Singeili we have already heard, he explains: “We make original beats rather than use the same ones copied from someone else — I used to record analogue but now we record only digital.” His new album has added a liquid sheen to traditional rhythms and melodies. It preserves a musical heritage by warping the past: deconstructing a culture by stripping back beats, pitching up voices and adding hyper bass.

As for the tempos, they are getting faster and faster. MCs who holler over tracks at block parties are having to work harder to keep up. You feel the tracks are on the cusp of careering out of control. It’s mesmerising and trance-like, shocking and igniting crowds just as free jazz must have done when it first appeared.

Travella seems more than happy to be the host of the party, for those who have the stamina to join. His energy when simply talking about music is nothing short of wild enthusiasm: “I love my fans — I sing with them, dance with them, I know what they need,” he beams, reflecting on how his shows are becoming increasingly boisterous.

“The girls twerk very very hard and the boys dance like a robot fall face down or move like a zombie,” he says. “But the most important is that they are happy, that we are together — for that I pray to God and for my plans to be good and true.” May his holy carnage continue to lift spirits and electrify far and wide.