Gqom pioneer DJ Lag, whose real name is Lwazi Asanda Gwala, is a 23-year-old producer from Clermont, hailed as the Gqom King. He is currently on the European leg of his tour #InternationalPantsulaOnTourVol3 after a successful release of his collaborative EP with Okzharp titled "Steam Rooms".
The EP was released the same week as "My Power", a track he co-produced on Beyonce's "Lion King: The Gift" album. The song features powerful female artists such as Busiswa, Moonchild Sanelly, Tierra Whack, Nija, and Yemi Alade.
You co-produced "My Power" on Beyonce's "Lion King: The Gift album", how does it feel working with one of the most recognized musicians of our time?
It’s always a blessing to have an opportunity for more people to hear our sound. Gqom is still very new to a lot of people, so having Beyonce choose my tracks, our sounds, makes a big difference not only to me but to my community too.
And what does it mean to you to have worked with six powerful women on a track?
It’s overwhelming, I don’t know how else to say it. Some people have said that Gqom is too hard for women, but you can see that’s not true, especially when people like Busiswa and Moonchild are killing it right now on Gqom tracks. They didn’t get there by accident. I’m learning every day that women will do what they want and say what they need. Now we must just get out of the way.
"My Power" is a song about one reclaiming their power, how do you reclaim your power on a day-to-day basis? Just thinking about my son gives me power and motivation to work harder. His name is Mpendulo, and he turned two on Saturday. I was performing in Berlin on that day, but I will do something special with him when I’m done touring in a few weeks. What does the title "Gqom King" represent to you especially at such a young age?
I think that you don’t have to be at the top to be a king. You don’t have to be rich or be known. But I think being Gqom King is about staying strong when people tell you that you won’t succeed. That happened to me a lot. They said that my music was just noise, that it wouldn’t last and I should go back to school. I knew I wanted to do this from very early on. Other people just didn’t believe in it the way I did. There’s a lot of things I still want to do, and I’m young, so I have time.
Tell us how the collaboration with Okzharp on Steam Rooms EP came about? I’ve known Okzharp for a long time and every time I’ve gone to London I’ve gone to his place to make music in his studio. We like spending time together and the EP was us just having fun.
You have been touring Europe since July and are continuing your tour for the duration of August, does the reception of your music still surprise you in non-African countries? I am often surprised even in other African countries! Remember that Gqom started in Durban townships. It’s not a place anyone from anywhere would think of visiting, but now people from all of the world are relating to it. I have now played all around the world and it is quite amazing to see people relate to it in a very similar way. Music is powerful like that. What has the feedback been like from the community in Clermont on your current rise and success? Like I said before, at first no one supported me. I had to teach myself how to DJ, find my own way to produce, and when I started making Gqom I was on my own. There were a few of us in the same position Rudeboyz, Naked Boys. Today, when I come home, there are people everywhere wanting to tell me how proud they are that we can do something the rest of the world wants a part of. It feels good. And it feels good to be able to give something back so that there will always be support at home for people who want to do what I’ve done, and more. I have an event called Something For Clermont, which we’ve done twice now, and will do again this year. This is an event in my township, where we use only local suppliers and local artists. It is from the community and for the community. I’m excited to be home for that. You've been making Gqom since you were a teenager, how has the sound you started with evolved to become your sound today? Everything is better with practice, and with being exposed to other sounds from other countries. Since I started making music, I’ve travelled more and listened to more music, so those things keep me inspired.
You've expressed that you hope to work with more mainstream international musicians, and have recently been approached by another big-name artist; what do you hope that the rise of your career will contribute to Gqom music? I hope that we will take the music to places it hasn’t been before, to continue re-inventing and discovering the sound. I’d like to inspire people to do more, the way that their music has inspired me. Gqom is what my everyday life sounds like, and a lot of people who come from where I come from will never leave Clermont. It feels good to know that with Gqom reaching new audiences, we can still be heard.
Photography: Bantu Mahlangu
Interview: Phendu Kuta