A woman’s place is in the house

At the heart and soul of the house music scene in Soweto, a small group of female DJs are making a name and claiming the beat all for themselves.

It’s just after sunset on a lazy Sunday evening, when Palesa Sebolao walks into a vast venue. She has a black backpack on her back, wearing a pink hoodie, pig tails, and pink Converse All Stars. She approaches the table where her friends are and takes a seat. In two hours from now she will transform into the star of the show. She will become DJ Palee.

In the same way, the venue itself undergoes a transformation. On Rathebe Street in Orlando East, Shop to Shop, is a hair salon for six days of the week. But every Sunday the shop takes on a different character and is known by a different name – Sweet Sunday.

At around noon, Shop to Shop slowly gets changed into an outdoor lounge area enclosed by tents – there are soft benches and long tables, to the front there is a disk jockey (DJ) booth and two speakers on each side.

She attentively makes her way to the DJ booth, making various stops at tables to greet some of the regulars. People at the venue can still make their way around easily as it is not packed.  She takes off her backpack and reaches inside for her CDs. On the other side of the booth, the audience is indulging in conversations and drinks. Five minutes later everyone is on their feet grooving to the tunes, courtesy of DJ Palee. Her mix starts off at a very quick tempo, which encourages everyone to get onto their feet.

After attending a three-month course at Fuse Academy DJ Palee went straight to the DJ booth and elevated her craft to a point where she could play in front of a crowd. Fuse Academy is an only female dj-ing school based in Melville, and is partly owned by DJ Zinhle. Some of South Africa’s best known female DJs like Miss Pru and Ms Cosmo have studied there.

O, kganti wa dlala?” meaning, “Oh, so you play?” remarks an audience member in amazement after realising Sebolao was indeed DJ Palee. She has always loved music, regardless of the genre, and this is one of the reasons she is now a DJ. She plays some of Soweto’s most sought-after genres, like house and kwaito.

ON THE DECKS: Palesa Sebolao playing at her first gig of the night at Sweet Sunday in Orlando East.

Soulful vocals – rise of the female

On a Sunday the streets of Orlando East are buzzing with the echo of the sultry and alluring sounds of somewhat of a rhythmic piano recital. A song you do not know is playing and you can’t help but move fiercely with the bass of the drum that hits your heartstrings. The majestic melodies sound mysterious and all so familiar.

The amapiano mix by DJ Palee has the crowd swaying and twisting to the dial of the piano. Someone in the crowd does the vosho which is a dipping motion with a slight flick of the leg. Someone else is doing the gwara-gwara which is usually done when a faster song is played. However, this gwara-gwara accompanies every beat of the song, attentively flicking the right elbow and left leg alongside the beat.

Being an advocate for female DJs, she says, “I think female DJs rock for the mere fact that the very same things we are underestimated in, we master so well.” She continues to prove the audience wrong at every gig or event she plays at.

There are many female DJs in Soweto but not enough of them are getting booked as resident DJs at clubs. One out of three female DJs are resident DJs in Soweto, says Nobuhle Nhlapo (DJ Buhle) who has been a resident deejay at Sefateng. Nhlapo has been in the industry for over 10 years. “The same week I started DJ-ing I got a job,” Nhlapo says. It was only in 2014 that DJ-ing became lucrative enough for her to leave her job.

Music and dance is an integral part of the community in Soweto, in particular house music. You can hear this type of music at spaza shops, school transports and homes. The house music phenomenon extends to the greater part of the country. According to Thump online, “South Africa is the biggest purchaser of deep house music per capita in the world.” Which is the case in the vibrant township of Soweto, where house music is played in clubs, bashes, chesa nyamas and parties.

Even though house music has its roots in the streets of Chicago, the sound changed as it emerged in the dusty roads of Soweto and it incorporated sub-genres that are solely South African.

House music has sub-genres that are loved across bashes and parties in the township. The DJs are booked according to the sub-genre they play. There is a certain mood that is maintained throughout the whole event, starting off with a soulful pace which creates a rather relaxing environment and is also reminiscent of the jazz Sundays that used to be held in Soweto.

Music in Soweto has history that can be traced to the marabi jazz nights during the early half of the 20th century, and further traced to kwaito which was big in the 1990s among the youth.

Among the youth

Lesedi Tsilekae strongly maintains the opinion that male DJs are better than female DJs. She has only seen two female DJs play and it was not in Orlando East. Tsilekae is a house music fan who says that the house music scene is growing in her township.

Later into the night the pace of the music goes through a transition which sees the tempo quicken. Lebogang Seoka, a DJ based in Orlando East, said the later it is in the night, the faster the music becomes. This is done to accommodate the heightened mood of the audience. Seoka referred to the sub-genres as deep tech, soulful house, soulful vocals, amapiano and commercial house music.

Seoka also mentioned that he is a lover of music before he is a DJ, and that he has been in the industry since he was 13, but only knows one female DJ from Orlando East.

“You literally have 15 minutes to show everyone what you got.”  The crowd seems like it is hard to please, however, DJ Palee makes no hesitation and fires up her set, with her left hand on the CDJ and her right hand on the mixer – the party begins. Taking the crowd by surprise, she consistently heightens the mood of the party with the audience’s favourite type of tunes.

The crowd did not necessarily gravitate to her when she arrived but as soon as she starts playing her set she reigns as the Amapiano Queen of Orlando East.

Research is one of the most important aspects when it comes to playing at a gig or event. DJ Palee said the DJ needs to first check the venue and establish what the vibe is before preparing a set.

She always tries to get to an event an hour or two earlier so she does not make the mistake of repeating a song that was played in a previous set.

Just like many other DJs, DJ Palee sees it as a “hustle” and is also studying and working at the same time. She said she would take up DJ-ing as a full time gig if the opportunity presented itself.

House music fan Sihle Hlatshwayo attests to the fact that the genre is big in Soweto. Hlatshwayo has been to a number of bashes and clubs in the township and the majority of the music played is house.

From the audience perspective there seems to be a reasonable amount of female DJs on the decks. “The response is based on the selection and mixing. People enjoy good music played at the right time,” says Hlatshwayo, who explains how massive the house music scene is in Soweto.

He compares it to that of Pretoria which is known to only have one type of house music.

HAPPY HOUR: Rathebe Street in Orlando East on a Sunday night.

Amapiano – Keys to the future

One of the emerging sub-genres in house music is amapiano. Music producer Lehlohonolo Mathibe describes it as a “dialled down tempo and use of minimal vocals, but rather rhythmically rich wood lock percussion”.

Sebolao’s set at Sweet Sunday consisted of a lot of music from this sub-genre which was loved by the audience. She prides herself on her versatility, as she plays a variety of house music.

The mood at the gig is the determining factor on which type of house music will be played.

Being in a male-dominated industry has never killed DJ Palee’s spirit as she identifies as a DJ and not a female DJ. However, that does not change the fact that more male DJs are booked at events.

DJ Palee was the only female DJ to play at Sweet Sunday between 6pm and 11pm. She mentioned how difficult negotiating with promoters can be as a woman. “O tla thola ba ho patala ka le botlolo” (Promoters may offer to pay you with a bottle of alcohol”), if you are not assertive.

There are many claims that have been made to explain why not as many women are as successful as the men in this particular industry. Nhlapo explained that safety is imperative as a female DJ – in particular when it comes to returning home after a gig.

She also mentioned how that could be a factor when being considered as a resident DJ.

One of the founders of Sweet Sunday, Thabang “Maestro” Mphahlele, is surrounded by his jubilant friends throughout the night, with music accompanying the sultry conversations about business and success.

Maestro is in charge of the line-up and makes sure he checks up on the DJs now and again. Meticulously making his way through the crowd and nodding in affirmation at everyone that notices him, he walks to and from the DJ booth, approving at every mix produced by the DJ.

He said Sweet Sunday is a platform for up-and-coming artists and DJs. He gives the artists of Soweto an opportunity to show their talents and still remunerates them.

Female DJs in Soweto are continuously growing across genres, in particular house music.

It’s 10pm and DJ Palee has just played the last song from her one-hour long set. Some are still on their feet while others are walking back to their designated tables.

The last song in her mix still has the piano dial, however, it is slower than the dial at the beginning of her set. Affectionately making way for the next DJ, she packs her CDs back into her backpack, exchanges a handshake and walks back to the table where DJ Palee becomes Palesa Sebolao again.

FEATURED IMAGE:  Palesa Sebolao playing at her first gig of the night at Sweet Sunday in Orlando East. Photo: Ntaoleng Lechela.

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GALLERY: Oppikoppi 2013

By Caro Malherbe, Pheladi Sethusa and Shandukani Mulaudzi

This year’s Bewilderbeast festival treated 20 000 fans to a wide range of local and international acts. Team Vuvu got to experience it and documented it with their lenses.

OPPIKOPPI: Made it out alive

CHILL OUT: Oppi goers taking time out on a couch on the last day of the festival. Photo: Pheladi Sethua

CHILL OUT: Oppi goers taking time out on a couch on the last day of the festival. Photo: Pheladi Sethua

By Pheladi Sethusa and Shandukani Mulaudzi

While one of us sits with a heaving chest and the cough of death, the other found the cure to her cold at Oppikoppi.

The last day of the festival could not have come soon enough, we were exhausted, dirty, dehydrated and hungry – but we had survived.

#InDustWeTrust

We had the time of our lives and we screamed our lungs out for our favourite acts as the dust made its way into our ill-prepared bodies.

The first thing to remember for next year is that Oppi is also known as “Dustville”. Have something to cover your nasal cavities and mouth. It will save you rocky tastes in your mouth and sandy lip gloss.

Now that we are no longer Oppi virgins, we thought it fitting to provide a few survival tips for those looking to go next year.

BAKING: Fans braving the sun to watch a show. Photo: Pheladi Sethusa

BAKING: Fans braving the sun to watch a show. Photo: Pheladi Sethusa

 How to make it out alive

We had bought enough food and booze to sustain our little bodies for three days in the bush. But on the last day, dry hot dogs with no margarine on the bun or sauce on the Vienna no longer seemed appealing.

The second thing to remember, the festival runs on a cashless system. Those who wish to buy food and drink on the farm have to buy pre-loaded debit cards.

We opted not to do this, knowing it would lead to frivolous spending. We had packed enough food but the smell of boerie rolls and hot chips accosted our senses by the last day, we were dying for a hot meal.

We were also so dehydrated at that point that seeing people’s water bottles had us salivating. Pack enough water, even enough is not quite enough – pack more than enough just to be safe.

In addition energy drinks would have been beneficial. We could barely keep our eyes open by the third day, this would have been cured by a kick and wings from one of those special drinks.

Clothes and shoes

We were so scared of the cold that we only packed winter clothes, big mistake. During the daytime we wanted to cry as the hot Limpopo sun scorched our fully covered bodies. It was as if the devil himself was sitting on the hill by the stages letting his heat out on everybody.

RUINED: Three pairs of shoes that will probably never be clean again. Photo: Shandukani Mulaudzi

RUINED: Three pairs of shoes that will probably never be clean again. Photo: Shandukani Mulaudzi

Do not bring shoes you hope to wear ever again and only bring one pair. You are going to be filthy by the end of the festival, so rather go with the general theme and take scrappy clothing.

On your way in and out

On the way to and from Oppi try to choose the route with the toll gates, it will set you back R21 but big, open, un-potholed roads await you. This way you won’t have to battle it out with trucks that are struggling to stay on the narrow, windy lanes.

Most importantly though we had a of fun, we enjoyed all that Oppi had to offer and made memories to last a lifetime.

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Same music, different people

By Pheladi Sethusa and Shandukani Mulaudzi

Pulling the short straw is something that happens a few times in your life. Sometimes you may be lucky and you won’t, this is life.

Screenshot_2013-08-10-12-10-21-1

ShortStraw

For the five man band ShortStraw, it was about the beginning of their career. They started out playing for no one then moved on to crowds of about 40 and now, they have two shows on the best Oppikoppi stages.

In an interview with the band, we told them of our sad racist encounter the night before.

“That’s fucking bullshit. It’s fucking 2013 you can only laugh at people who still think that way,” said Russel, bass player for ShortStraw.

Russel told Wits Vuvuzela that one of the first black bands to play at Oppi was Kwani Experience and that was what sparked a cultural change at Oppi.

“Black bands used to be apprehensive. But once they played and were received well they changed their minds about the fest.”

Tom added that music is an experience for everyone and something that should bring all people together.

After pulling the short straw on day one, we were on a mission to find some diversity at Oppikoppi.

Traditional music moves

FIRST OPPI: Bongeziwe Mabandla plays his first set at the festival. Photo: Pheladi Sethusa

FIRST OPPI: Bongeziwe Mabandla plays his first set at the festival. Photo: Pheladi Sethusa

The Ray-Ban stage, where the incident happened the night before was where we found a new enlightening Oppi experience.

The act was, Bongeziwe Mabandla, who enchanted the crowd with his sweet traditional melodies in isiXhosa. His sound was one we cannot put our finger on but it made us feel like we were watching a male Thandiswa Mazwai.

The crowd, representative of South Africa’s overrated rainbow nation, more than half of whom did not understand the lyrics, stood and danced along with him.

People lost their minds when he jumped off the stage into the crowd and beckoned him to jump onto the table, which he did without protest.

Oppi’s cultural shift

AO JIKA: Mi Casa's frontman, J Something setting the stage alight. Photo: Pheladi Sethusa

AO JIKA: Mi Casa’s frontman, J Something setting the stage alight. Photo: Pheladi Sethusa

Bittereinder, who are veterans to Oppi said the festival has gotten bigger and better with more variety in music than ever before.

Jaco van der Merwe, rapper in three man band used the Vusi Mahlasela tribute last year as an example of Oppi’s diversity.

Mi Casa is a great example of diversity, it’s just beautiful. They also have random black people at our show, who have no idea what we are saying, but they jam anyway,” Jaco chuckled.

Later that evening we jammed to crowd favourites Zakes Bantwini and MiCasa. At these performances, the crowds were just as diverse and responsive. As J’Something asked us to jika, we turned and saw different people jika along with him.

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Op pad na Oppi (On the road to Oppi)

 

OPPI PAD: The long and windy road. Photo: Shandukani Mulaudzi

OPPI PAD: The long and windy road. Photo: Shandukani Mulaudzi

By Pheladi Sethusa and Shandukani Mulaudzi

Three camera bags, two spare batteries for each camera, sleeping bags, tent, camp chairs, bags and booze all squeezed into the back of a Polo hatchback.

Even though the day had been coming for a month, two Oppikoppi virgins were scrambling to get their things together at the last minute.

Rosebank Mall was full of people getting last minute supplies, mostly of the liquid variety.

The journey begins

Within the first 30 minutes of the drive, a wrong turn made it clear that it would be a long journey to Northam Farm, Thabazimbi.

The scenic route made up for the potholes and narrow roads which made for a bumpy ride and also provided plenty of photo opportunities.

After two hours of driving a toilet break was needed but no Engen, Shell or Totall garages were in sight – only kilometre after kilometre of dusty road and the odd bush. The only solution to this problem was found inbetween the two car doors of the little Polo.

We’re here!

A wrong turn gone right led directly to the Oppikoppi gates.

ENTER HERE: Oppikoppi 2013. Photo: Shandukani Mulaudzi

ENTER HERE: Oppikoppi 2013. Photo: Shandukani Mulaudzi

Thorn bushes and dust in the air welcomed the first-timers to what would be their home for the next three days. Setting up a tent and easing into the campsite took no longer than 30 minutes.

After settling in, it was time to explore the festival they didn’t know but had heard so much about. Having heard rumours about poor to non-existent sanitation, drunken mosh pits and rampant racism – only first-hand experiences could tell.

Rumours turned true-mours

A performance by band, CrashCarBurn proved the mosh pits true, leaving a rocky taste in our mouths.

A bird’s eye view of the ShortStraw performance from the shoulders of a strong man proved the racism claims.

While many sat on shoulders and waved their hands to the music, it was not a fun experience for one.

As soon as she was lifted to the gracious man’s shoulders, pushing and shoving came from the girls in the front. It could have been a matter of jealousy however, we learned differently.

The guy let our reporter down, and apologised for the failed experience.

His friend, known only to us as Francois, told Wits Vuvuzela journo Caro Malherbe: “I’m sorry. I really would like to talk to them (the black colleagues) but the girls won’t like it. They are of a different race classification.”

With shock and disappointment, the short straw was indeed pulled: by us. We went back to our tents feeling disheartened, but still hopeful.

That hope was quickly snuffed out by comments that came from a neighbouring tent. To our left was a tent with two black men who were very chatty, to our right were two white, Afrikaans men who were also very vocal.

We overheard the white campers saying “Ag, ek gaan nou iemand klap as hulle nie stil bly. Ons sal sommer die nuwe Waterkloof 2 wees”, this was followed by the two men laughing.

That was within a few hours of being on the farm, two more days to go.

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Team Vuvu Oppi ball

By Pheladi Sethusa and Shandukani Mulaudzi

ALL ROADS lead to Limpopo in August, this time not for Moria celebrations or to return to one’s roots, but rather to rock out at Oppikoppi.

Bewilderbeast

Bewilderbeast is the theme this year and it marks the 19th Oppikoppi festival since its inception in 1994.

Performers set to take the stage and entertain revellers include Mi Casa, Jeremy Loops, Jack Parow and the Deftones.

Two Wits Vuvuzela reporters will be attending Oppi this year and, in preparation for the festivities, they decided to find out how to prepare for their weekend in the bush.

What to expect

Most people approached for advice said to get a reliable tent, warm sleeping bags and a big cooler box to store food and booze.

A veteran who has attended numerous Oppikoppi festivals, Habrey Landman, from the University of Pretoria, told Wits Vuvuzela: “You need to take a boy, to help you make a fire and set up camp. There are no camp areas, it’s just bush.”

She added that hygiene is a major issue and the best way to stay clean is to bring along wet wipes and dry shampoo that can be bought at Clicks.

VoWFM DJ Max Motloung said he had been warned about the funky smelling festival.

“Just know that you guys are not going to bath, hey,” he said.

Motloung added that one should be prepared to wait in hours of traffic when leaving on the last day of the festival.

Landman said festival goers should keep hydrated: “a case of something, a bottle of something and dash” would suffice.

The festival starts next week Thursday, August 8 and runs for three days until Saturday, August 10.

Team Vuvu is ready, all that stands between reporters and bringing the festival to Witsies is a three-hour drive to a farm in Northam.