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DBN Gogo Jägermeister

In so far as music experiences go, you won’t easily forget one by DBN Gogo. I call it an experience because blithely labeling it a set doesn’t quite articulate the encounter. You see, Mandisa Radebe is intimately acquainted with music because she was student of groove. Her university days saw her attend to her law degree during the week, but weekends were reserved for the party scene that was the foundation of her unorthodox education in DJing. With several friends of hers being DJs, she took to the streets with them over the weekends and observed what the industry lacked from a nuanced and intimate perspective: more women.

It took years to grow the brand that is DBN Gogo, one of impact and originality, one of drive and ambition and authenticity. It has also yielded her new deal with Jägermeister as a brand ambassador. On why working with the brand was such an easy fit for her, she says, “They’ve always just been a really good brand to me. Even just the people, besides the actual company itself and what it represents and what it looks like from the outside, there are people on the inside who’ve always just had a very, very good relationship. And they’ve always been super good to me.”

As a brand, Jägermeister has undertaken the role of showing up for and supporting those who are masters of their craft. It’s been at the core of their ethos to celebrate those around them through the power of originality and the presence of their impact. Being one of the fastest growing genres in the world, aligning with amapiano artists and supporting one of the most exciting genres in music right now was a no-brainer.

Mandisa can’t agree more. A lover of the brand long before her ambassadorship deal, she says of them, “They just believe in creative. They are very big into that. Believing in just anything that can be possible, pushing that. It doesn’t even matter if it’s piano, they are multifaceted in terms of the kind of genres that they push.”

Her own journey with music is quite a storied one. “I’ve always been into music. I was in the choir, I was in a hip-hop dance group, I did ballet… I used to do eisteddfods, I played the recorder, I even started piano lessons. I’ve just always been into music.” Making a career out of it had long been a goal of hers, but she anticipated it going the more traditional route and being a vocalist. “Even when I was younger, I actually always wanted to be a singer. I think the path kind of just changed a bit when I was in varsity and I actually realised I enjoy partying. I mean, even before varsity, but I enjoy partying and I just felt like there was a gap in the market, there was a need for more women, more female representation.”

It’s through the lens of these encounters that she’s formed the identity of the artist she wants to be. The electrical circuit that is the city of Pretoria and the musical current that underpins it also lends itself to her enthusiasm for artistry. “Pretoria is such a accepting place,” she says of the infectiousness of the culture of the city. “Even just the hood culture. I think that’s even where I grew the love for piano. When I first got introduced to piano, it was called broken beats. It was a different kind of style of piano, very Pretoria style, no lyrics.”

“It was the first time I would go to parties where you would just hear house with no vocals, just straight up instrumentals. It was a very different culture. Even just considering the climate at the time rekere and bacardi were also quite big. So there’s a very ratchet side of Pretoria which I automatically was drawn to.

Starting her journey as a DJ, building her brand, and getting regular bookings reflected the community she surrounds herself with. With no CDJs or equipment to hone the skill, it took her four years to get comfortable behind the decks. It was a hustle. Friend and colleague, Venom gave her a few lessons on the basics and allowed her to practice at his standing Saturday night gig before the doors opened and the patrons descended. “I had a lesson with Deck-Burna also once, I had a lesson with Timo. So it’s just like community; people helping each other, building one another. The first people to book me were Homecoming. It’s like a family, like a family that you choose.”

The family grew, as did amapiano, and her stature as a DJ elevated. She says she owes part of her success to the pandemic. “For me, I think the turning point was actually COVID, like, lockdown. That year I was scheduled to play at a lot of festivals [and] obviously becoming more popular in the immediate space [that is] Pretoria, Joburg. But nationally, it wasn’t at that place yet until I played on Lockdown House Party.” She later posted a clip of her mom watching (and dancing along to her set), saying it was the first time her mom had seen her play. 

“Lockdown was the real thing that actually propelled my career forward. I can even say it even helped piano get to where it is, especially globally. Because there was nothing else to do except create. And there was no other genre in the entire world creating at the pace that piano was. So people at home sitting and watching us making music, doing dances, being out of stage three to five of lockdown when we would go out, then being locked down again but still going to illegal parties. You know, it was a cultural moment. That’s why piano has such great storytelling because it’s cultural. Doesn’t matter where you’re from, you know about Konka. Anywhere in the world, if someone’s following piano, they know about a Konka or they know about Megalo or certain things or certain dance moves. It’s a cultural moment, it was really quite a shift.”

Part of that brand shift came with the way she approached her personal brand. “I’ve always been a really fancy girl. Even if you look at my old pictures, even when the eyebrows were crazy big, I’ve always just been a very put together person. I like dressing up, I like looking nice, you know? Hair, jewellery, that’s a form of expressing my personality in a different way. People are always like, ‘I really would’ve never done that. You gave me the confidence to do that.’ It’s like, I have to go through that so that I can show other people that you can do that. 

You know, it doesn’t mean that I am obviously the most confident person or I didn’t struggle. I still struggle today, but I understand the bigger picture and the bigger role. And if I’m feeling better and good about myself, if that can translate, it can help someone else at the same time to feel good about themselves.

And representation matters. It’s very, very important. I think I just put myself [together] in a manner that translates well. And I always like to look comfortable and feel comfortable. And that is what translates, even in just my expression in my face. When you feel good you actually end up looking good. Doesn’t actually matter what you’re wearing, but when it’s coming from inside, you can see it.”

On what she wants people to take away from their first experience and impression of DBN Gogo, she says, “That I’m a black woman. In entertainment, in music. And that I take myself very seriously and other people should too.”

One of her most visible tattoos are izithakazelo (clan names) inscribed down the side of her arm. I ask how much of her heritage and those who came before her inspire her journey going forward. She says, “It’s one of the most important things to me. It’s even in my name, you know? Gogo was not a mistake. I’m very in tune with who I am being Zulu. Both my parents are Zulu. I’m a hundred percent Zulu. Without my heritage, I don’t have an identity.

There’s something that was before me that made me who I am today. There’s something in me that continues to make me who I am, to change me, to make me become the woman that I am today. So it is very important to me. Especially in the very Western, modern world. When we don’t take care of ourselves and our culture and our heritage, we end up getting very, very lost. 

You can kinda see it with the kids, the generation of today, that they’re not in tune with them themselves, not really even wanting to know where they come from. Everything you do has a purpose, you know? So it’s very important to align yourself with all that. But obviously for me, it might be just a little bit different because mine is a bit more spiritual.”

In speaking about her family and her journey with them her eyes soften. She lets the hairstylist working on her look know to take a break because she needs to get the point across with clarity. “My mom is the blueprint of everything that I am.”

It’s no secret that her father is former cabinet minister Jeff Radebe and that her stepmother is businesswoman and mining magnate Bridgitte Motsepe-Radebe. But Mandisa owes her success to the work ethic and drive that was instilled in her by her primary caregiver, her mom.

“Just seeing her, knowing her… When I was growing up, knowing the sacrifices that she made to get me into the places that I was in, get me into the schools that I was in, paying for all sorts of things, for education, car, whatever, it was not easy. It was not easy at all. She was almost like a single mother, until she met my stepdad.”

Her mother is ANC veteran Thuthukile Skweyiya and her stepfather is the late Dr. Zola Skweyiya, who, amongst his many contributions to this country’s development, is lauded for being the architect of our social security systems. Speaking of her stepdad, Mandisa says, “One of the best people ever. May his soul rest in peace. I miss him, a lot! He also was the perfect father figure.”

Emphasising the work ethic instilled in her by her parents, she says, “They all had to work, you know. A lot of the time they had to work. So you find yourself alone most of the time. And you can see, kind of, the PTSD that they have from their own lives. From Apartheid, having to run away, joining the ANC, going into exile, going to jail, all those things. I even see it in my brother today. I think he’s even more affected by it because he grew up with my parents around and then they weren’t.
For me, at least, they kind of were there and then they weren’t there. I was always just independent because they were working all the time.”

“Our stories will never be the same, but she showed me that you actually have to be worth something because your own name has to carry weight. You’re not gonna be able to ride off of the coattails of something that someone else has done before you. And especially because I don’t relate to them in that way. They were my parents, they weren’t politicians and diplomats. They were just my parents.”

Considering how hard she’s had to work to get to where she is currently, I ask if shes a master of her craft. “I’m the blueprint. If we’re gonna be honest and sit down and look at the past year and everything that has happened since then, I am the blueprint.”

“That is literally how so many of the things that are happening now are happening. Especially when we are talking about women in this industry, in this time. Zinhle was the blueprint of her era.”

On how some of the younger female DJs can move through the criticism they receive, she says “I always say it’s important to take your craft seriously. The girls have to actually come with the A-game. That thing will never go away. If you don’t do more… And we always have to do more than men, we always have to go above and beyond and prove ourselves. If we don’t do that, we will always be at their mercy, you know? 

So I always say it’s very important to take it seriously, hone your craft, practice, do what needs to be done, learn, educate yourself. There is nothing better than knowing better. Bettering yourself, whether you are a DJ, a singer, dancer, or whatever. Always being a better version of yourself. We have a lot more to offer, so it’s important to just not to let that get into your heart as well. There’s a reason why you are doing what you are doing and don’t let anyone stop you. The only person that should be able to stop you is you yourself.“

Production Credits

Written By:
Lighting & Digitech: 
Creative Direction:
Styling Assistant:
Cover Design:
Mercia Tucker
Mini Photography
David Blaq
Mercia Tucker
Cherné Africa
Mapule Ralekgota
Caroline Greeff
Astro Kltr
Glenn Marc Kisela

Production Credits

Written By: Mercia Tucker
Photographer: Mini Photography
Lighting & Digitech: David Blaq
Creative Direction: Mercia Tucker
Styling: Cherné Africa
Assisted By: Mapule Ralekgota
Makeup: Caroline Greeff
Video: Astro Kltr
Cover Design: Glenn Marc Kisela