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12 Questions: DJ Fresh


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BOTSWANA-BORN DJ Fresh, real name Thato Sikwane, is one of South Africa’s most-sought after mix masters. He is credited with pioneering the house music scourge which is engulfing Southern Africa. He arrives in Birmingham, England, for a one-off gig on Friday (see details). Here is 12 Questions:

You were born in Botswana of course, but what set you off on this career path?

It was back in high school when I did my first gig at a school disco, I think I was 12. One of the senior boys who was supposed to DJ was from Zambia. He missed his flight from Zambia to Botswana. People knew I collected a bit of music, so I stepped in and I never looked back. I moved to South Africa at the end of 1994 to study advertising and journalism. One thing led to another, and when I finished school, I did auditions at YFM and got a job there. I left YFM for 5FM last year for selfish reasons. I love radio. As long as I have an audience, a microphone and a couple of CDs, I rock!

How have you dealt with the transition from cassettes to CDs and now vinyls?

When I started deejaying, it was cassettes all the way. It was a rite of passage. Everyone knows an orange Bic pen was made with a TDK in mind, it fits perfectly. My music, some of it I bought, some of it I recorded from friends some of it recorded from Radio 3 in Zimbabwe… from the Hitman’s (Peter Johns) shows. I knew how to record very fast, whenever I visited friends in Bulawayo, I made sure I had a cassette.

Now I just use CD, I moved from cassette in the mid-1980’s. I bought my first vinyl in 1988, it was a Karyn White Secret Rendezvous, it was the first record I bought with my own money for deejaying. It’s just continued to grow, now my records are probably 10000. But now it’s strictly CD for one reason -- most of the music is not available on vinyl, either because it’s new or local. I would love to stay on vinyl but it’s impractical right now. Imagine having to travel to the UK with two vinyl cases. Last time I paid £800 for excess baggage, so I decided never again.

Wherever you look, everyone now fancy themselves as deejays. What makes a good DJ?

A good DJ is somebody who goes the extra mile, a DJ who will play the same stuff you have at home, but play it in a way you will never hear it. For instance you were asking me about the new L’vovo, there is no new L’vovo. It's how I played it that’s made it special. Everyone has L’vovo, the question is how do you play it such that it’s special on the night? And that’s what I try to do with my music, and that’s why I prefer deejaying with up to four CD players…you can create a whole masterpiece, like I said it becomes a unique special performance on that night.

How easy is it to navigate your CD bag, do you know the song you are going to play next?

I never know the next song. What I play depends on what the previous DJ played. You can’t plan a set, if you plan a set and you get there and they have played every song you planned, then what? My plan is to rock a party not to play a certain song.

Some say house music has eclipsed kwaito, do you buy that?

I don’t think house has replaced kwaito. Kwaito was derived from house in the first place. What kwaito has done is evolve, you are looking at people like L’vovo Derrango, and right now these boys from Durban, Big Nuz, for me are the next big thing in kwaito. You will hear of them very very soon if you haven’t. Kwaito is just evolving and sounding more like its father house, because that’s where kwaito came from in the first place. Kwaito came from house music in slow down, guys rapping on it, and singing on it. I don’t think kwaito is dead, kwaito is far from dead. But house has grown, house is huge. The fact that I have a booking in Zambia -- I never had a booking in Zambia -- shows you that house has grown. I have bookings in Mozambique – I never had a booking in Mozambique -- it shows you that house has really grown in a big way.

Have you ever imagined yourself as a politician?

I don’t think I am good at politics, I just have a big mouth maybe or I say what I see. Generally, people tend to think politics is not my problem, as in them, I think we need to stop being passive. I think Kenya was a good example of people saying ‘you know what; we will show you that we have a voice, if we need to’. I think it’s a tide that you will see throughout Africa, where people will start expressing themselves if they are not happy. I think we generally have been too passive towards our leaders; certainly the winds of change are blowing. We will see what happens in Zimbabwe in the months ahead.

THE FANCLUB: DJ Fresh poses for pictures with fans during a recent UK tour
THE FANCLUB: DJ Fresh poses for pictures with fans during a recent UK tour

You are not a small man. How did you amass this body of muscle?

I go to the gym three or four times a week, without fail. Without gym, I would need drugs to stay up as late as I do. I am always on the road, so your body is the only engine, if you don’t have a good engine, how do you expect to get from A to B? Without gym, I would be a wreck I think, it’s good that it keeps me sane.

What’s the best thing that ever happened to you?

Probably my wife and kids, I think they keep me grounded. Without family you are aimless. I look back to when I was a bachelor and now. When you are a bachelor you leave work, what time you get home doesn’t matter, you leave work and spend the money the next day. But all of a sudden with family, it’s not about you anymore. I have two kids, the first one came when I was an over-eager 20-year-old and before we knew it there was a baby. I have a son who is five with my current wife. We are negotiating number 3, we will see. (Laughs).

Who is your inspiration?

I wouldn’t say there is one person who inspires me. My inspiration, or what drives me generally, is the resilience of the African people. I think we are the only people that have taken so much crap from so many people and still come out at the end without hatred. To give you an example, white people…if things were reversed in South Africa, I don’t think white people would have been as forgiving as black people. So I think generally African people are very resilient and very forgiving. Looking at Zimbabwe’s independence, Zimbabweans accepted things, the terms…life moved on. Africans in general are resilient, and that inspires me, the fact that we always come out at the end, one way or the other.

If your house burnt down, what would you save?

My man I would find a fire engine! I will use the hose myself!

What was the last book you read?

I am currently reading God Delusion by British biologist Richard Dawkins. It basically talks about the delusion that there is a God. It talks about the new, I wouldn’t call it a trend, but more and more people are atheist, more people are turning around later on in life and saying ‘I was brought up religiously but I don’t necessarily prescribe to whatever religion’. It’s not trying to brainwash you, it’s just showing you the other side. When I finish reading it, we will follow up the interview and find out what my feelings are.

Should the World Cup be moved from South Africa in 2010 becaue of violence?

There is a lot of noise about crime, but what I find ironic is that the next World Cup after South Africa is in Brazil. Rio is the most dangerous city in the world, it has been rated that year after year. Why is it not an issue with the World Cup going to Brazil? So is the issue crime or Africa? That’s what I find ironic, Brazil got it, no contest. You are safer walking naked in Jo’burg than Brazil! I think people need to cut Africa some slack. (Interview by Mduduzi Mathuthu)

DJ Fresh spins at Birmingham's Concrete Nightclub (120 Vyse Street, B18 6NF) on Friday July 25. This an All-White Party and tickets cost £10. Call 07926203553 for more information
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