A house mix for your Monday blues by The Late Show's Lonwabo Mbadlanyana
Words: Modupe Oloruntoba | Photograph: Lauren Young
We met Loonie on his way to a Fashion Film Festival, not so much tagging along as being reluctantly pushed onto the red carpet by a well-meaning friend. He’s not really about the limelight, as so clearly evidenced by his keeping a low profile after many years in the industry. Lonwabo Mbadlanyana is really just about the music, from his early years in Nqamakwe in the Eastern Cape to clocking his hours on Cape Town’s music scene and making some interesting friends along the way. Now hosting his own show on GoodHope FM, Lonwabo’s working hard at carving out something fresh for the late night crowd. Here's what he had to say about life as a dj, his genre and making a name for yourself.
On Goodhope FM's #TheLateShow (Monday-Thursday at 11pm):
It’s going well, it’s been a really cool experience. Things have changed a lot in the last couple of months, with policy changes coming down from yonder higher-ups (you know, the quota), but all in all, it’s been a really cool experience. For me it’s been something I’ve been working towards, and to finally get to a point where you’re actually doing it and living it every single day - it’s a trip. I’m enjoying the process of figuring it out and making it my own so to speak; putting myself into it a lot more and putting together something that’s really cool and really great. We’re not necessarily trying to reinvent the wheel here with late night radio - it’s always been there. But you sit back and look at how some of the greats have done it and you try and do it your way and in some way, do it better.
On his genre:
I’m a good music DJ! I don’t identify with any specific genre; I’ve been asked that question so many times… But I’m like, what do you need? If I play an event I look at the room and say, okay, these people look like they need this, or they need that. Whether it be house or hip-hop, or some EDM-y vibes or even like drum ‘n bass, I love all music. You can catch me on a Friday night at Waiting Room chilling and listening to golden era hip hop or on a Saturday night you catch me at Galaxy with Dr Jules listening to the most commercial jams and having a merry old time. There are areas I could say I’m comfortable in – in a house crowd, in a hip-hop crowd, in a commercial crowd - but I identify with all. I’m like a chameleon, I change with my surroundings, what I need to be at that time. So when it comes to genre I tick ‘other’ in that box. I consider myself more of a music curator than a genre DJ. I can attribute it to Cape Town and the way that it affects you… when I was still a resident out in clubs, you had to switch it up and you couldn’t be one specific way. You had to come with your commercial house and EDM stuff and have that on deck ‘cause at any time your crowd could switch up on you and they could want that. You’d have to have your hip-hop lined up and on point as well, because that could happen too. I’ve grown up in the city needing to be ready for all things because I don’t move with any specific circles… I bounce around a lot so you have to be able to fit and switch and be able to connect – the main thing is finding a level on which you and the person on the other side can connect, you can give them a vibe they’re familiar with and then say, hey, you know this vibe; how about I introduce you to some of this stuff? That’s when the fun really starts, and you can start to really expand the borders. I blame this city; there’s too many places and different people – it’s too hard to pick a genre.
On making a name for himself:
In all honesty, I haven’t really tried to. I’ve always been the type to just go about my business and do my thing. And if you experience it and you like it, enjoy it, love it? Then hey, we can be homies. If not, that’s cool; I don’t take it personally— it just doesn’t appeal to you at that time. I’ll go back and work on it and try to do it better, but I won’t take it personally. I’ve found that a lot of folk tend to focus too much on making the name, and then once you actually get past the name, we know who you are but how well do you really do this thing? They tend to lack a bit in that department and that's my biggest fear. You hype up this thing so much that when people actually get to sit and experience it, it’s not actually as dope as advertised. I always felt like if I put in the work, the hours, dedicate myself, if I do the business — the name will come. In the past that was a working formula, but you find now that it’s kind of shifted; it’s old school I guess. In this new world of personal brands and pushing your agenda, it's become about making sure people recognise you and your handle for what you do. It’s never been my thing, up until recently. I’m trying to switch that up and be a bit more outgoing and get my name out, because it’s been around for a while but it’s been whispered in corridors, not shouted from the top of the hills. It’s never been my style to say "hey, I’m over here, pick me!" It’s always been that I put my head down, do my best, and let the chips fall where they may.
On the mixtape:
A couple of my favourite jams, stuff that I grew up with. I’m from the Eastern Cape, East London originally by way of Nqamakwe. It’s stuff I grew up on and truly identify with in terms of house music; it’s a whole house music mix. I love vocal house – find me a dope beat and get me a sexy singer on top of it singing nice lyrics and you got me. I’m a sucker for that, it’s too easy. Monique Bingham can’t do any wrong in my books, Roland Clark even can’t do any wrong. It’s an eclectic mix of that kind of stuff. Some Musica Feliz, cause there’s nothing better than someone singing in a language that you don’t understand but the vibe is translating and that you can understand. Some Stimming, some Fresh and Euphonik too.
Any cool stories yet?
A lot of cool stories! But some of them I can’t divulge; certain parties might feel some type of way about it and I can’t be ticking people off — I need those interviews! One of the coolest things that I remember from a couple years ago is when I was out doing a promo for a cell phone brand, and they were running a campaign to find the best campus rappers. The best would get the opportunity to work with a then-budding artist who had just dropped his debut album and was doing really well, performing it all over, getting a lot of solid good looks, coming onto a campus and just turn things upside down for the lunch hour. It was AKA. He was rolling small then, it was just him and maybe Tibz and Fanatic was behind the decks as always. You could win an opportunity to be mentored by him for a song. We were running to the studios out in Camps Bay, dropping off the winners from UCT and UWC. I was with my boss at the time, E. He drove this really small red Atos prime; we called it Optimus Prime. We dropped them off and they got to work and then we had to go and pick up the artists, they were chilling in Long Street. This was before okes used to send their technical riders, like "Yo, I must be picked up in a luxury German saloon…" at that stage I was a bit porkier than I am now, and they were also a bit porkier than they are right now, so if you can imagine it, it’s E driving, AKA in the front seat, myself in the back with Tibz and Fanatic all rolling in a little red Atos trying to get to Camps Bay and help guys record. It turned out great man, lots of good music was had, there’s actually a video (but I won’t put it out yet) of AKA channelling his inner Lenny Kravitz and playing guitar. I won’t tell you whether it’s good or bad, can neither confirm nor deny, but one day we’ll put up the video and you can decide for yourself… that was a cool one.
On what’s next:
What’s next is putting the finishing touches on some academic stuff, then back to work, getting back to doing gigs and events. There’s a couple of gigs that I have lined up, they’re going to be huge for me, and for the city… Also getting back into the recording studio, there’s a couple of things that I’m working with people on – consulting, A&R-ing in the back. All in all, just trying to get out there and have a bit more fun, doing what we can to make The Late Show the best late night radio show that we can – cue Tbo Touch horn.
* Don’t forget to check out The Late Show, Mondays to Thursdays, Exclusive to GoodHopeFM at 11pm.