RISING STAR | Tembisa's DJ Thabithabs looks to change the landscape for females in the same profession

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Nompumelelo wants to contribute to creating a DJ industry that she won't be worried to have her daughter join
Nompumelelo wants to contribute to creating a DJ industry that she won't be worried to have her daughter join

Growing up, she used to model, sing, dance and believed in making fashion statements. She was the child who’d be called to entertain visitors or to take centre stage at a family event.

Having been a boarding scholar in KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) while home remained Tembisa, she found herself transporting music between two provinces. She’d collect music from KZN and introduce it to her family and friends in Gauteng then take Gauteng music back to her friends in KZN.

It’s safe to say that Nompumelelo Buthelezi was the music plug.

That’s why when the time came for her to pursue DJing and tell her mother about it, it came as no surprise to her family.

Her mother had seen it coming but still made sure that she pursues a tertiary qualification, in case Djing doesn’t work out.

“I would be the first child in the family who would get a chance to go to varsity and study music, so I was given an ultimatum to do any other course that would be my back up plan should my music plan fail,” Nompumelelo says.

While she was doing her first year in ceramic design at the University of Johannesburg in 2009, she joined the DJ society. To her surprise, there were no female members at the time and so she went back home to Tembisa where she began her search for someone who’d teach her how to DJ.

Admitting to the challenges then, she says, “Being a female Dj then meant you have to fight stigmas and stereotypes. Every move you made was either contributing to your growth or to more negativity. You needed to be prepared to face challenges and have thicker skin as you would be tested every chance the industry vultures would get. Building genuine relationships was near impossible because almost everyone who is supposed to help you would want something in return.

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“Now with all the power social media has given us, a lot is so much easier. How influential you are determines how big you can be in the industry and social media made it fashionable to have female Djs. Looking at how these ladies are pushing boundaries, social media has given women a voice and that now throws out a lot of [new] challenges.”

To be seen and break the boundaries that were set for females in the industry, she knew she had to make a mark everywhere she went and DJ competitions is where she started.

“I entered major Dj Competitions and competed with mostly males and that played a major contribution in me getting into mainstream. Yfm and UKhozi fm really played major roles in introducing me to the mainstream and being under Moflava’s mentorship was a cherry on top.”

From being mentored by MoFlava, the young Nompumelelo became a YFM YTKO DJ, won the JC Le Roux spinstress competition, played at the Miami music invasion, Channel O’s lockdown house party and Metro FM’s MSC boat cruise in 2022.

Recently, she also entered the Smirnoff Shaya Ingoma DJ search competition and was the second runner-up.

In the competition’s inaugural year, she only made it to the top 10 so “a big part of me believed it’s not time”.

“When it returned again last year, I was at a funeral when two guys who live a street away from home called to tell me a competition at the mall is in search of female DJs and they think I can take it. Being my intrigued self I did not ask any questions, I just grabbed my things and headed there.”

Over the years, entering these competitions stopped being about winning but rather about networking and putting DJ Thabithabs out there.

“It excites me that I am going to be surrounded by other female competitors that I did not know whom I possibly share the same vision with. The fact that it was airing on SABC 1 screamed PR for me and I thought that will help put a face to the name Thabithabs. So I jumped on this one with the intention to build relationships more than winning that money.”

From her accolades and achievements, DJ Thabithabs is most proud of giving back through her craft, teaching more females to confidently find their way behind the decks.

“During lockdown, I wrote a post about wanting to groom at least 20 female DJs. A week after posting this Mr Bushy Rakale called me and proposed a similar idea by the Department of Sports and Arts and Culture. I got the opportunity to train over 20 female DJs and that for me feels like my biggest achievement because we really need to balance out the numbers in the music space. Not just balance out numbers but also fight the stigma that a female can’t be as good as a guy,” she tells Drum.

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The 33-year-old has taken it a step further by hosting events that have female-only line-ups, teaching people how to dance in her community and starting a talent agency.

With this agency, she aims to empower upcoming female DJs.

“This agency is going to look at skill and management and all other industry challenges (exploitation, branding and investment) and I would love for it to teach most female Djs how to treat this as business, because it is.”

Speaking to Drum about what keeps her going after over a decade in the industry, she says, “Even if I don’t reach my highest peak, at least someone will live to tell the tale that I made a huge difference in their lives.

“The honest truth is that the industry favours people who have a history and come from well off families in the music space. I am the first generation in my family to be in the music space. The need to make the industry better for all the other girls who are first generations in their families is my motivation and having a baby girl who is as artistic as my daughter is my biggest motivation,” she says.

“I would really hope the industry is more welcoming to her and not as hard as it was on me, should she take the decision this is the path she wants to take. Also I think knowing I am good at what I do, gives me a continuous need to want the world to know what I am capable of,” she adds.

In the next five years, Nompumelelo sees herself grooming over 500 DJS, pursuing her modelling dread, having international gigs and dominating the entertainment industry.

At the moment, she also produces music and still sings as an expansion of her brand.

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