Getting To Know DJ Buhle: Thriving In A World of Motherhood & Full-time DJing
We often see female artists in the music scene being associated or stereotyped into the softer, feminine role of being singers in music rather than the hard, masculine technical role behind the machinery of the DJ decks. Nobuhle Nhlapo, popularly known as DJ Buhle, however represents a different kind of woman. She has been DJing for over 13 years now and is one of the most seasoned underground DJs in Johannesburg. Playing in some of South Africa’s’ major events and shows such as Oppikoppi Festival, We House Sunday, VUZU TV’s Hit Refresh and Deep Town Jozi.
DJ Buhle talks to us about being a mother, twin sister and bread winner in her family as a full-time deejay and how perseverance, patience and a positive state of mind has led her to being one of the most booked and sort after deep house deejays in the country.
Let’s put aside the music and DJing for a minute and talk about you. Who is Nobuhle Nhlapo?
Nobuhle is a mommy to a 7-year-old daughter called Matshepo, a twin sister to Nombulelo, older sister to Nonhlanhla, younger sister to Manzo, younger sister to Themba and Bongani and so forth. So, I have 8 siblings, one of whom passed away, so there are 7 of us left (4 girls and 3 boys). However, I don’t stay with all my siblings, it’s just my daughter and I where I live now.
Take us through your daily routines and rituals as a mommy.
So day to day, I wake up and prepare my daughter Matshepo to go to school and make sure she catches her school transport on time. When she’s at school, I’m busy with chores in the house or I’m on my laptop working or I’m recording mixes or else I’m in meetings. When she comes back home from school, its mommy and daughter time; I cook, she eats, takes a bath and goes to sleep, while I carry on doing my own work. So, day to day my weekdays are more or less like this except for Thursday nights where I have to go play at my residency in Rosebank.
We know you as a full time DJ. Tell us how you manage to do that and raise your daughter as most DJs we know often have full time jobs and only deejay on the side?
I used to have a job before where I worked at a bank for 8 years. However, as soon as my daughter Matshepo was born I realized that every weekend through DJing I was earning almost double what I was getting paid in a month at work, so I decided to resign from my 9 to 5 job and started hustling from there and became a full-time DJ.
That’s really amazing and almost the opposite of what most people would do, especially after having a child. What made you have the confidence to make that decision and stick to it, especially since we know DJing as quite an unstable career?
If you know me you know that I am a fighter and I love challenging myself. The day I left my former job they thought I was joking, especially when I handed in my resignation. They tried to convince me to stay because I have a daughter and I told them that my daughter is the reason why I was leaving because I would work the whole day during the week and on weekends I was out DJing and I ended up not having enough time to spend with my child.
So I took it upon myself to leave work and make sure that my child’s upbringing is alright and from a young age she understands that when I’m going to a gig at night, mommy is going to work. I sometimes also go with her to day time gigs so she knows what mommy does and she’s my biggest cheerleader when I’m on the decks playing.
Tell us how you were able to navigate raising a child and the hectic lifestyle of being a DJ which requires constantly going out to parties? Also, how does your daughter feel about your unorthodox career?
I would leave my daughter with my twin, Buli, who obviously looks like me and she felt safe and comfortable enough to stay with her whilst I was away even though she knew that she wasn’t me. She saw her as her other mom and it wasn’t too much of a transition when she was with her rather than me. So my twin sister played a big role in helping me raise my child.
Was money not an issue at the time you quit your job and how did you manage to get around that and still raise your daughter properly without a full time salary?
What happened was I was DJing while I was still at work so when I resigned, they gave me a payout package. So with that package I took the money and paid off my debts and then bought myself a car in order to make sure that I am visible everywhere so that promoters believe that if they book me wherever, I would be able to get there by myself. I made sure that I made things as easily accessible as possible for me as Buhle.
Yes, at times I did have thoughts about my child and what would happen if the money I had saved up ran out but I made sure I equipped myself with everything I needed to push my career on my own e.g. my own house, car etc., and take care of my child’s needs as well. So I managed to get money to do all these things through my deejay bookings, without any other side job.
You seem like a very positive and spiritual inclined person, particularly on your posts on social media. How important is positive energy and God in your life and to where you are now?
Yes, I am a very spiritual person. I believe that if I am not okay spiritually then I won’t know what I’m doing and my existence will seize to exist. Remember, the music industry can break you at times and that’s why I choose to motivate people on social media and rather not talk about the negative side of the industry because I don’t want to see someone else going through that. I was able to handle the negative aspects of the industry but someone else perhaps won’t be able to so that’s why I’m always putting positivity in everything I say or post.
Also, having to channel my mind to constantly be positive also brought many opportunities for me, because as they say what you speak is often what will manifest and happen. I set targets for myself for where I want to be in my career and then work hard behind the scenes to plan and make the right moves for me to get there. And when I achieve those targets, I quickly move on to the next.
So yes, God has been a very important part of my life because I grew up without my mother and my father was not there. My grandfather raised me but it was hard to get the love that I could have possibly gotten from my mom and dad from him as he was mostly there just as a guardian.
On a lighter note, it seems like you spend more time in the Barber Shop and the Nails Boutique than you do in the DJ booth. What inspires your look and fashion sense, and how important is it to the brand of DJ Buhle?
Yes it’s important to me as it goes with my image because as a female your nails need to be clean. There was a point where I never used to do my nails and saw that people who take pictures of me when DJing focus on my hands and I didn’t like how untidy and unprofessional it made me look. Also, at that time a lot of DJsboth male and female, didn’t really give much thought into how they looked, how they portrayed themselves or how people look at them.
So I told myself that whatever that I do regarding my look, which includes how I cut my hair, I need to set some sort of trend with whatever I am doing. At some point I was dying my hair blonde, red, blue or purple and made sure that I’m trend setting. I get very frustrated if my hair is not on point and so I always make sure that I get my hair cut almost every week. So these are the things that I did and didn’t even realize that they were becoming a signature look for me, which were my red lipstick, my fresh haircut and as my glasses (Spex) that I have on all the time.
I’m sure you are tired of being asked the typical questions about how hard it is being a female DJ, however we would still like to know what the challenges you had as a female DJ coming up were and how you overcame them?
Well, apparently when I started people said I was privileged because I worked with house music legends such as DJ Mbuso, DJ Claude, DJ China and they taught me how to play. I was the first lady at Phezulu Records where I had first-hand access to the vinyls that were ordered and when they arrived I would test them out. So people thought I was privileged because of that, meanwhile Mbuso was always on my neck saying that they were not going to give me that benefit just because I’m a girl. They said I must earn my place there, work hard and make sure that even if Phezulu Records closes down I can go to other record stores such as Soul Candi and people still give me respect as a DJ and want to give me the exclusive vinyls and not someone else who is male and push me aside just because I’m female.
Also, at that time females were associated with the Disco-like, flowery sound and there I was playing deep house and deep tech and collecting vinyls of that sound, which a lot of people didn’t understand at that time. At that point I also didn’t have a manager so getting bookings was a challenge. All this happened until I decided to start hosting my own events and I started “Sunday Phola”, which caught a lot of people’s attention and I built a reputation with a lot of DJs, promoters and club owners. From then on things started moving upward for me and my career.
What advice would you give other female DJs who are coming up in the game?
If there’s one thing I know about the music industry is that I am not bigger than it is, and I always treat myself as a newbie, as if I’m someone that’s starting out. Remember that I’ve been playing for a long time but the market I wanted to play for I hadn’t gotten into yet until recently. So, when I eventually got into the market that I wanted to get into in 2013, it still took me another 3 years to start playing at the parties that I wanted. That means I started from scratch after 7 years of being in the industry. I had to look at things in a different light and now that I am in the market that I want I’m still learning a lot of things and making a lot of new contacts. Therefore if there’s one thing I’m not going to do is to disrespect what I’m doing and think I’m bigger than the game.
So, with all these other female DJs emerging, I believe that they must earn their stripes, put in the hard work, and not doubt themselves just because other DJs are getting certain gigs and not them. They must carve their own lane and not be jealous of what other female DJs are doing. Be yourself, don’t try to be or mimic someone else, be consistent, patient and persevere. I had to believe that my time will also come and that is the mentality that I used to get where I am, and I advise them to do the same.
What can we expect from DJ Buhle in the near future? Any projects or ventures you want to share?
Getting into production is the next logical step for me. I have an EP that I am working on coming out soon so that’s what I am going to be focusing on. I might be taking a break on hosting events as I feel that I have done enough in that space and I’m looking forward to the challenge of breaking into the production side of things and fighting for my place there.
I will also be featuring on one of the biggest DJ online streaming platforms in the world, Mixmag, where I will be headlining alongside Da Capo and Seth Troxler. I am so overwhelmed and nervous about it but I have a whole lot of good emotions as well that are telling me that Buhle, the world is watching you now and after all the years of hard work that you’ve put in, it is now your time.