DJ Cleo - 2011-07-13
DJ Cleo has been the most upfront, significant and influential dance music producer in South Africa for the past eight years at least, having repeatedly earned respect with different genres such as house, kwaito and hip hop. His productions include such prodigies as Brickz, Pitch Black Afro and Mzekezeke, and luminaries like Mandoza, Kabelo of TKZee and Skwatta Kamp, to mention a few.
DJ Cleo wholly owns an independent record label called Will Of Steel Productions, something which by all accounts, considering the overly competitive South African music business (with control and commercial success historically vested with the multinational major recording companies), requires astute entrepreneurship and hard work bordering on slavery in order to survive.
DJ Cleo is not only a consistent hit-making producer, but a disc jockey who is internationally acclaimed and highly sought after. He often gets booked to perform in far-away music capitals of the world overseas, and is well-travelled across Africa.
The 2007 release Es’ khaleni Phase 4 (the fourth instalment under his own name), remains an important benchmark in the dance music scene, and this fact was validated by the album’s double platinum sales status, far outnumbering any other urban release of that year across at least five popular genres here.
The following are some of the key achievements in DJ Cleo’s career thus far:
2011: Special On-Air Award Commendation at the International Radio Festival (Swiss).
2011: Best-selling Mobile Music Download for “Nababantwana: at the MTN SAMA17.
2011: Best-selling Ring-back Tone for “Nababantwana” at the MTN SAMA17.
2011: Best-selling True Tone for “Nababantwana” at the MTN SAMA17.
2011: Coolest Local Radio/Club DJ (Sunday Times Generation Next Survey Awards).
2010: Coolest Local Celebrity (Sunday Times Generation Next Survey Awards).
2010: Best-selling Mobile Music Download for “Hands Up” at the MTN SAMA16.
2010: Best-selling Ring-back Tone for “Hands Up” at the MTN SAMA16.
2009: Best-selling Mobile Music Download for “Hands Up” at the 15th Annual MTN South African Music Awards.
2009: Best-selling Ring-back Tone for “Hands Up” at the 15th Annual MTN South African Music Awards.
2008: Best Urban Dance Album for Es’ khaleni Phase 4 at the 14th Annual MTN South African Music Awards.
2007: Best Dance Album for Es’ khaleni Phase 4 at the 8th Annual Metro FM Music Awards.
2007: Best Urban Dance Album for Es’ khaleni Zone 3 at the 13th Annual MTN South African Music Awards.
2006: Best Club DJ at the 7th Annual Metro FM Music Awards.
As well as having been nominated at almost every single major music awards ceremony in the country over the years, DJ Cleo has also been accredited with a Channel O Award and took home another one called Urban Wave.
It is a matter of public record that he has contributed to the success of a number of artists he has produced music for, most notable among them a talent named Brickz (Best Kwaito at the 11th and 14th Annual MTN South African Music Awards), and Mzekezeke, who won Record Of The Year in 2002 and 2003.
DJ Cleo has had a cameo role in a few episodes on the popular soapie Rhythm City, and through that his interest in become an actor was awakened, but it will have to wait until he finds the time for it.
It would be heedless not to mention that Pitch Black Afro, through his DJ Cleo-produced album titled Styling Gel, remains the biggest-selling South African hip hop artist from a single offering, which was his debut album.
The year 2008 brought with it the long-anticipated release of Bleksem, with an album called Skepsel. Bleksem, a new-comer, has earned significant industry endorsement with nominations at two key award institutions, Channel O and Metro FM respectively, and is a favourite performer in Southern African states.
Having already produced seven albums in his own name, and many songs (even whole albums) for other award-winning and top-selling artists, DJ Cleo has surprised many critics with the release of an artist called Donald, whose music can best be described as contemporary jazz. With Donald's album, Just Donald, DJ Cleo revealed the true extent of his musical genius, something which many in the industry have long had knowledge of, albeit he never overtly brought it to the fore.
In 2009 DJ Cleo once again released a SAMA-nominated album, Es’ khaleni 6, contrary to the widely circulated industry rumours that he had quit recording and releasing music. Es’ khaleni 6 is an album that reinforced the man’s talent and put him on a higher pedestal in a world where dance music is overwhelmingly synthetic. In it DJ Cleo exhibits his ability to play instruments more than he has done on any of his previous albums. An acclaimed bassist, he also plays the guitar and keyboard with perhaps equal adeptness, and these skills were pored on this album.
Es’ khaleni 6 elated the fans who thought he had abandoned them, managed to inspire his peers yet again, drew affirmative support from critics, and most importantly, will continue to keep feet on the dance floors for a long while with some classic hits.
Will Of Steel Productions is also a growing business, with the recent signing of DJ Mzi, whose debut album, EzaseMZIni Volume One, was released in October 2009, and DJ Mzi will see his sophomore release in July 2011.
With the extension of DJ Cleo as a performing artist, and from the evidence gathered on shows over the past two years, we can assertively claim that the best producer of kwaito is now its best live act. It is not an overstatement to declare that DJ Cleo is widely considered an important standard-bearer against which his peers are measured, and this is something he takes very seriously, always working to ensure that he is ahead of the pack.
Once again, DJ Cleo’s 2010 release (Es’ khaleni 7) was certified Gold, almost reaching platinum status. The month of July 2011 will see the release of DJ Cleo’s eighth album in the Es’ khaleni series. Provided the feedback on the singles which have been leaked to DJs countrywide is anything to go by, we expect more success to follow.
Over the years, there has been a monolithic character in DJ Cleo’s music, which has drawn him respect and support from even quarters that are not particularly dance-oriented. In a word, that thing, that character, that which sets him apart is musicality.