I can count on my fingers the times I’ve felt God's presence. The situations vary but I have attempted to narrow them down in order to find some common variables. I find myself in a room with people who share common goals, understandings and truths about life, ready to hear something that would resonate with or challenge me. Voices and hands raised in praise, a crowded space that can only be explored through legwork. “Last night the DJ saved my life” and I left the sacred place feeling renewed.
Seldom is sound analysed as something through its experience of conjuring altered states of euphoria. And I argue that ‘grooves’ immersive nature lends it being a form of liturgy. Liturgy is a word used in religious spaces to describe the practices we partake in that are life giving. Liturgy is not something to do, it is doing something to you.
Our following guest, Hlengiwe Sewela is a digital creative and an electronic/techno DJ based in Johannesburg, South Africa. And I believe, a DJ with strong grounding in the sustaining force that is ‘groove’. A current OROKO Radio Resident DJ, staple at queer club nights Night Sweats and Bad Girls Club and just came off of the success of their own party, 303. I am honoured to have engaged with them digitally and explored music and its power to expel shame and fear. Enjoy this following interview with the creative mastermind, OkayHlengi!
OkayHlengi for OROKO Radio
Could you introduce yourself and tell the FRM family what it is that you do?
HS: My name is Hlengiwe Sewela and I am a (as of late) 25-year old from Joburg–born and raised. I don’t like to say “I am” my occupations; I’d rather say I do, so like so many other people, I do lots of things–e.g. graphic design, video editing, lots of digital stuff in general just to pay the bills, and I also (probably most importantly) DJ, dress up & art direct :)
OkayHlengi for The Other Radio
I saw that you have recently come up on over a year of deejaying events, Congrats! When did your interest in performing begin? And why electronic music(s)?
HS: Thank you so much! So I’ve always been interested in performance in general, specifically theatre, so the aspect of performing for an audience is something I’ve always been in-love with (yes I am a Leo). It’s not necessarily that I have a craving for performing for an audience–but I definitely wouldn’t say that it’s much of a daunting task for me.
So with deejaying I just wanted to hear my own music when I was out, so the most immediate way of doing that is deejaying. Plus with the new way clubs and events are set up, the crowds are (for the most part) facing the DJ–so I can’t exactly shy away from the performance aspect of that lol.
Why electronic music? Well, like everyone around my age, I grew up listening to EDM, dubstep and pop–so I feel it’s just a natural progression. Though thinking back, I must say that I enjoyed heavier & darker stuff back then; for example let’s take Martin Garrix. I was a big fan of his but particularly of his “less played” tracks, like 'BFAM' and 'Turn Up the Speakers' with Afrojack because the bass lines were much drier; so I think that definitely gave rise to my interest in techno. But in general, whether rock (my first love) or EDM or dubstep etc., I've always liked things fast. I get bored easily so techno and electronic music in general keeps my energy high, which is nice lol.
I reached out to you because of my own interest in ‘groove’ as a form of praise. And in the literature I’ve delved through there is an idea of how mundane activities and spaces have the potential to create everyday beings into god-like beings. I couldn’t help but connect that to the dance floor with the DJs being the Gods of the dance floor.
That being said, which DJs do you look up to and regularly keep up with? And could you expand on why you connect with those specific DJs?
HS: It’s very interesting that you said that because in my third year of studying Fine Art, my focus was on the balance between spiritual and physical. That being the conflict that exists between the “holy and unadulterated” spirit man vs. the “inherently sinful” physical man. I am a bit of an extremist when it comes to trying to balance out the two parts of myself–growing up in an extremely religious household (still) and learning about the rapture really impacted (and somewhat) stifled my earthly development in terms of romantic relationships, sexual exploration, going out etc., because I thought that at any given moment Jesus would come back and I would be left to face the horrors of the 7-year tribulation.
Because of that, I HIGHLY censored myself and greatly suppressed my natural urges. It was only from matric when I decided to start “living” and I only started going out in varsity. That’s not a very long time. I’m not exactly sure how or when I started gaining an interest in deejaying per say–but I do remember when it clicked that it's something I wanted to do, and that’s when I watched Dana Montana on Hör with their friend, Judasime. The music she was playing as well as the BDSM hardcore punk outfits that their friend had made for the both of them just did it for me. I saw myself in that moment and it’s still a mix I go back to; to ground myself and remind myself of my “roots”.
Besides that, there are two other mixes of hers that have my heart: the first, her Shakti stream (again with counterpart Judasisme) and then probably my favourite, the glorious Simulated Paradise live stream ft. Mati Drome; and consequently this was filmed in a church. Watching that felt like a 360 moment back to my studies, so it really hits deep still. Sorry for the long answer. I don't even know if I answered the question. Lol.
Your response was perfect! You recently hosted a house party, '303', how long had you been sitting on that idea and how did you find the process of putting that together?
HS: When I started deejaying, I always imagined myself throwing parties because I’m a very big idea person anyway. Coupled with my studies in which I began set designing, my own installations and incorporating music in those environments. It was only natural that it bled into my DJ career. Whenever I went out, I took note of what I liked and didn’t like in clubs & events and I wanted to create an ideal party for me lol–so it stemmed from a very selfish place admittedly.
But to answer your question, I sat on the 303 house party for a good 6 months. I knew I wanted a party and I knew from the beginning that I never wanted 303 to be in a club. So I looked around and figured: hey I’m broke but I have my home that I can use so that’s a good place to start–and also who doesn’t love a house party?
Besides being an amazing DJ, you’re also really tapped into aesthetics, mainly clothing and prosthetic makeup, which are all activities that are dependent on your hands. Out of the three, which is your favourite? And which have you taken the longest to perfect?
HS: Lol, thank you again. This is somewhat of a trick question because as much as I’ve always been surrounded by music, I’ve equally always been surrounded by film so I cannot separate the two. I need to always feel good in what I’m wearing and I always need to believe in the sound that I’m playing. But with that being said I’m a whore for a good outfit and costume–what can I say I’m a visual learner!
Finally, do you have any advice or thoughts you’d like to impart in regards to the current moment we are experiencing when it comes to underground events and the DJs who are a part of that scene?
HS: This is a tough question because I’ve only been physically exposed to “underground” scenes only within the past year. I guess my advice is the same for commercial and underground events and DJs: Just believe in your vision more than anyone else because your support for yourself should be your first priority. If you aren’t a fan of what you’re doing, then it isn’t worth it.
Also (pet peeve) people can see past the bullshit–so don’t just want to connect with someone based off what they can do for you. Start off with genuine interest and friendship, then naturally the rest will follow if that’s what’s meant to be. Clout-chasing isn’t cool :)