Mohau Billy: On format, the underground, growing the culture & staying true to what you love
Towards the end of 2018, I had been connecting with different artists, promoters and entrepreneurs in and around the country, using social media as my tool of choice to establish relationships and networks with more like-minded people in preparation for 2019. On this one particular day in December, I came across a post on Facebook about an event that was set to happen at Kitcheners in Braamfontein. American house music pioneer, Mike Grant, was in the city and was set to be hosted by Coquette Vinyl Sessions, an event series platform that I first heard of in 2016 from a friend of mine called Lepulta, who sold records at the time – he spoke highly of the event series, noting how innovative, left-field and groundbreaking the concept was, especially for the underground dance music scene in Johannesburg. After seeing the post, I shared it on my profile expressing how much I wanted to attend the event and a few minutes after posting that, I received an inbox from one of the most passionate music enthusiasts I know on social media, Ryan Cannon, and he told me about Mohau Billy – the founder of Coquette Vinyl Sessions. Ryan proceeded to connect Mohau and I, and we started speaking. I expressed interest in supporting his event with Mike Grant as the headline act with Nolumuzik, Buddha TK, Duke Dwane and The Piper as local supporting acts. He connected Mike Grant and I towards the end of December and I arranged an interview with the legend with hopes of getting people a little bit of background on him.
READ: Mike Grant on his beginnings, his inspirations & sharing his love for house music in South Africa
The first Thursday of the year was eventful and served as a sign of the beginning of a great year. I had just returned to Johannesburg after a short two week break in Mpumalanga and was ready to kick the year off the best way I could. I had returned to a different kind of Jozi; a much more peaceful, quiet and less busy city, something that is unfamiliar to me. You see like many of the city’s inhabitants, I came to the city of gold to find work, build a career, change my circumstance and support my family, so I am used to the city’s electric personality – a city brimming with life and an unavoidable sense of urgency that the city’s inhabitants have. In the evening I left home headed to Braamfontein by taxi and as soon I landed there I was confronted by the ghost-town-like state the youth culture hub was in as I walked to Kitcheners. I got to Kitcheners, ordered a can of Red Bull as I knew I still had a long night of networking ahead of me, I paced around the bar looking for a space to sit which was, rather, odd as the bar was relatively empty. I eventually got a seat close to the door, so I could watch people as they came in. Time went by and people slowly started coming in. I would scan the room to see if I could spot Mohau as I had never met him in real life as our interactions were online at that point in time. Time continued to press on tearing deep into the night, Nolumuzik took to the DJ booth and spun her records, her selections ranged from jazz, house and hip hop making for a truly eclectic set which got me off my seat to the dance floor area. As much as I was enjoying the music, my eyes were still scanning the room so I could spot Mohau.
After minutes of scanning the dance floor, I spot Mohau close to the DJ booth, I approach him and we begin to chat. Our conversation was lengthy and packed with insightful gems. “Curating events like this is important for representation and pushing the culture. I really appreciate the fact that establishments like Kitcheners trust us with our ideas and what we do, especially for young guys like me” he says after I big him up about what he does. Venues like Kitcheners play an important role in making sure that the underground music scenes in Joburg are alive, thriving and visible – which is a beautiful thing. “Booking and having the international guys is great for the culture down here, but I kinda want to slightly focus more on events that prioritize the local guys. There are a lot of talented spinners in the scene that I feel deserve a platform to play venues like Kitcheners. It’s good for the growth of the culture” he expresses his future intentions. Through the Coquette Vinyl Sessions international artists such as Tama Sumo, Lakuti, Step Daw, Arthur Lastman, Darand Land, Jazzman, Iron Curtis and Johannes Albert just to name a few.
“What matters the most to me is the music, the format or medium that the music comes in is not something I fuss or worry about too much. As much as most of the events that I have curated have been mainly strictly vinyl, I still do cater to guys that don’t play vinyl. One thing we have to remember is that vinyl is expensive, not everyone can afford it. We have a lot of talented kids that I feel also deserve a shot and they are most often only limited to play on CDJs because of circumstance” he says, speaking on format and the barriers of entry that exist in the analogue DJing scene. He has a point! Playing vinyl does not come cheap with some records costing hundreds of Rands and that can definitely be heavy on the pocket for a kid that is coming up.
One thing is for sure, Mohau Billy is a passionate soldier for the culture and an active contributor the growth and life of the underground music scene in Johannesburg. Born and bred in Soweto, he has built up a strong rep for himself in the game. He needs to be celebrated, protected and assisted as he works tirelessly to elevate the culture.
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