DBN Gogo is pioneering a new era of SA music

DJ and producer Mandisa Radebe, popularly known as DBN Gogo, has cemented herself as an influential figure on the SA music scene. The ‘Khuza Gogo’ hitmaker is at the peak of her career and has helped shape the amapiano wave.

When DBN Gogo’s single ‘Dakiwe’ (with Lady Du) sparked a viral challenge across all social media platforms this year, she instantly solidified her presence in the entertainment industry. Her music has taken on a unique form, and her hit songs feature on playlists across the country, and as a DJ, she dominates the charts.

Of her long-term relationship with ampiano, she says, “When I was growing up in Pretoria, we’d listen to bacardi, rekere and broken beat. Amapanio comes from these sounds and is also a derivative of kwaito.” She describes it as more than a genre, “a culture, way of life and livelihood”, rooted in uniqueness and inclusivity.

“People use it to survive, and it doesn’t have gatekeepers, so it’s fair game for anyone who chooses to dabble in it.” It’s the people who ultimately choose who’ll succeed “because the music speaks for itself”. You’d expect DBN Gogo to have a larger-than-life personality, but I’m pleasantly surprised by her soft-spoken nature, which sparks my curiosity about her life outside music.

“I’m generally quite a peaceful person, an introvert who enjoys keeping herself to herself. Reflecting on her upbringing, the Durban-born DJ says, “It was pretty normal and not so normal at the same time. I never wanted or needed anything.” She says seeing her mom make sacrifices at a difficult time in her life is the reason she pushes herself so hard. “I want to return everything to her tenfold.

She traces her love for music back to fond childhood memories, one of which is being in her school’s choir. “I also played the piano and recorder, and was part of a dance group.” Her mom, cousins, and aunts were members of a church choir. “Music has always been a big part of my life. Even when we lived in France, Mama Miriam Makeba, who was good friends with my mom, would visit.

Going to her shows, simply being in her presence, inspired me to be in the same position, place and industry she was.” Continuing to soar, she’s also captured the attention of global audiences, selling out on her recent UK tour a testament to her global appeal. She may have achieved star status, but she says she still remembers securing her first gig. “Homecoming gave me my first big break, and they’ve been a constant in my career, they really put a lot of young artists on the map.”

Ampiano’s popularity has also prompted conversations about Gqom, and music lovers across the country are wondering if this is the end of the once-popular genre. DBN Gogo affirms this isn’t the case. “Both thrive in their categories, and people have their preferences when it comes to either or. Each is derived from house music.”

About the people who’ve been instrumental in her journey, she says she has a great support system. “My mom, especially, has always been in my corner. Without my management team, I wouldn’t be able to attend gigs, fulfil brand commitments, and generally contribute to how society views the music industry. The narrative I’m pushing is that we’re here, capable, and taking it to the top!”

She further notes technology has made it easier for artists to connect with fans, but admits it’s very easy to get caught up in the social media hype. “It’s also important to use your social media platforms to be a positive influence. I spoke for girls who were afraid to be body positive, and now those girls are saying, ‘This outfit was inspired by DBN Gogo.’” Her approach to brand alignment? “It’s important to me that the brands you see me wearing are those I believe in, that always supported me, and I love and aspire to own.” We live in a time when individuals consider themselves as brands and businesses, and the talented DJ says she subscribes to this notion: “I consider myself a brand. I must see myself this way because brands gravitate towards people who speak well of themselves.”

Her track ‘Khuza Gogo’, which caused a stir on social media, further affirmed the hitmaker is unapologetically taking up space in the industry. She attributes the track’s success to her team’s collective efforts and the other artists on the track. “We just got in the studio, rocked, and it became a musical sensation.” Cognizant of her impact on music lovers across generations, she says even though she never imagined she’d blow up, she knew her hard work would eventually pay off.

“Impact, to me, is your trajectory towards things you do and how far it takes either those close to you or in your ecosystem,” she adds. Amapiano’s success has also paved the way for female DJs in a once male dominated industry. “I already work with up-and-coming talent, but I’m hoping to find time in my schedule to mentor those who come after me.” She affirms the rise of female DJs reflects an era of representation and inclusivity, which she says sums up her 2021. “I’ve taken it all in my stride and endeavour to be more than that, a much more positive influence.

Looking at her gig lineup, I can’t help but wonder what downtime looks like for her and how she remains centred. “I listen to myself, my body, and what I need, in silence. I receive a lot of energy at night when I’m out gigging. It’s a large exchange of energy, so I have to release it.”

She says meditation helps her release heavy energy and also does things that make her happy. “Self-care is important to me, so I also enjoy spa treatments; a facial, manis and pedis, a glass of wine and a cheese board with the girls at my house, and we just chat and laugh together, and of course, rest. I also have conversations with my mom. She’s invested in my well-being and also makes sure that, physically and psychologically, I’m OK.” She says her friends help her remain centred and balanced, “by reminding me why I do what I do and why it’s important”.

As the world continues to shift, she says she’s learnt to be agile. “Be ready to switch to what’s happening at the moment, and most importantly, to pause.” Making music during the pandemic means she’s had more time to sit in the studio, “to be creative and more involved in the creative process as well as the final product”. What else is in the pipeline for this focussed Queen? “Keep a lookout on the timeline for more music and brand work, and I’m excited about a feature I’m doing at the moment.” Hers is an inspirational story unfolding beautifully before our eyes. Her next chapter “features a lot of music, giving back to the music industry, and mentoring”.

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