Since she was a little girl Mandisa Radebe (27) – better known as DBN Gogo – has loved music. She would belt out bangers at the top of her lungs while playing the piano at her parents’ home in Pretoria.
“It’s something I’ve always wanted to do. I’ve always just been very musical. I used to play the piano, sing and dance. Music sort of found me,” she says. Although somewhat new to the music scene she’s fast making a name for herself at major events like Ultra South Africa, Rosefest, the Vodacom Durban July and last month’s MTV Strongbow BIG Picnic.
She’s also performing at Afropunk in Jozi later this month. Her first single, LA (with Tumza D’kota and Tshiamo) dropped earlier this year. And she promises there’s more to come.
GETTING ON DECK
Mandisa, a final-year law student, is a self-confessed party animal. At varsity she befriended many DJs but was often unimpressed by guest DJs’ spots at clubs. “The guest DJs sucked. I thought, ‘I can do better’. And that’s how it started.”
She started dabbling on the decks and in 2017 was invited to play at Stones in Melville. “I’d practise from 8-10pm, fiddling and figuring things out before people came in to party. DJ Venom showed me the basics – we had five proper lessons – then I played at Tshwanefontein in Pretoria, and the rest is history.”
She took a break from her studies when her DJ career began to take off but is determined to complete her degree at the University of Pretoria.
She’s definitely not a gogo, and although she’s originally from Durban her stage name isn’t a “homage” to her hometown. “It’s a place I absolutely love but it’s just a nickname I got from my friends,” she says with a laugh. “It’s pronounced ‘Deben’.”
The daughter of former minister Jeff Radebe and businesswoman Bridgette Motsepe-Radebe, she grew up in Pretoria with her parents and lived with them in France for four years where she was exposed to a variety of music and artists.
“When we were in Paris, SA artists visiting France to perform would come to my house. I grew up eating dinner maybe once a month with Miriam Makeba,” she says. “I listened to all sorts of weird European, trance-y stuff and house, a lot of kwaito, jazz, Miriam Makeba and Hugh Masekela. SA music was a big part of my life.”
Fame can quickly go to your head, Mandisa says. It’s easy to find yourself surrounded by fake people – which is why it’s important to stick with people who keep you grounded. She says as a woman in a male-dominated industry that kind of support is crucial, because the industry “looks down” on women.
“We have to work much harder to prove ourselves. When I started out I wasn’t being paid my worth but I learnt not to settle for less.“Know your worth and don’t fall into the trap of doubting yourself because people want to dim your shine.”