Uncle Waffles: “When a stage requires me to go big, I always think ‘how big can I go?’”


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Something I love about the rise of amapiano and Afrobeats on the global stage is that it’s introducing people in general to just learning more about the continent. Are there any aspects of Eswatini culture that you think have shaped you into who you are today?

I think the biggest thing is that we are some of the most loving people in the world. So even as we travel, you realise that a lot of common things in how we engage as Africans with each other can be very different internationally. So that’s one thing that I’ve truly carried you know – always be nice to people, always be kind. Even if some cultures aren’t put together like that… always be that!

And what was baby Waffles like growing up in that landscape, where did she fit in?

She was the girl who opened circles and people would throw money. You know when you have family functions and you dance and they give you money? I used to be that girl.

Okay that tracks, so pretty extroverted?

Yeah and surprisingly now, I’d say I’m extremely introverted.

Did it feel like that switch came the more visible you’ve become?

Yeah I think the more I became visible, the more I just fell into a shell within myself. I think it’s just a way of making sure I protect myself and my mental health and everything, because it’s really helped me.

Did you have any particular role models growing up that inspired you?

I’m a girl’s girl so I’ve always looked up to women. Any woman who was doing something historic, I’m about it. There’s Lebo Mathosa, who is at the top of my list because the only music videos I used to really see were hers. And she was the only artist that I would see who was really dancing and performing. Every time she was out, you’d see her dancing, performing, expressing herself. And I’d always think, that looks so fun.

There’s also Chomee, she’s the queen of dancing til this day, like a performer to the tee. So those are the people that I used to really look up to.

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And am I right in thinking when you were younger you had this inkling that you might end up in the spotlight somehow, but you just weren’t sure exactly how?

I used to always envision that I would do something that would make me ‘popular’ but I couldn’t figure out what it was. Because you know when you’re young you don’t think of DJing as the first thing. Maybe you think of being an actress or those types of things…

And so talk to me a little about the journey of tracking that ambition into action, it started out with presenting, right?

Yeah I started presenting on a small show. So we used to bring creators and interview them, they’d talk about their craft, what they do, how they started, exactly what I do now surprisingly!

So one time a DJ came, and I was like, yo I really like the sound of this, but I just want to learn, I don’t want to DJ. I just want to understand it because it looks really fun. So I started off just a month, every day for eight hours. Then it was in two months, every day for eight hours. Then it was three months, four months, five months, then an entire year. Now I’m doing it by myself, because he stopped coming after the second month. Because after that it was just about me and practising and discovering if I actually love it, because the more you want to get better at it, the more you realise you could be passionate about it. And [at the time] I didn’t think it was possible to be passionate about DJing, you know? And then I started falling in love with it. Then I took out a bookings poster that I made and did my first gig, and there was nobody there, but that was okay you know? [laughs]

And I guess that next stage is equally tricky from discovering your passion to carving a career path out of it. What was the jump like from that first empty gig to the infamous one that ended up changing so much for you?

I realised that this is something that I really wanted to do. I fell in love with it. And I realised that even if it isn’t something that is gonna make me a lot of money, it’s something that I really want to do. And I feel like I’m really good at it. I feel like I can perform. So I just started posting on social media and as I was getting more traction, it became more real.

There were a lot of names who are out there and travelling the world and it made me think, no I can actually do this, let me try my best. So I was posting videos, I was taking gigs for free, just trying to get my face out there. I just made the decision that people are doing it and I feel like I bring something unique to it so I should also be trying my best to get to that place because they all started somewhere. They all started where I was.

And so you have this dream to break into this industry, that happens in such a huge and viral way. Was there an element then of having to go back to the drawing board and supersize whatever it is you imagined for yourself? What did that recalibration look like, of what could be possible for you?

Yeah it took a lot of help! And having a team and a support system. Because going back to the drawing board and realising that: Okay, I can’t just be the artist that I thought I would be. Now I need to figure out, given this opportunity, how do I maximise? How do I become a star from this one opportunity? How do I grow? Because the person I was three years ago isn’t the person I am today, it’s not the same artist. So yeah, it took a lot of help and being willing to just explore and try new things. ‘Okay, maybe I wasn’t really good in this creative aspect, how do I get better? My performances were like this before, how do I upgrade them to make sure that I’m able to get into those spaces?’

And if you had to describe the difference between the Waffles of today and the Waffles of ‘Adiwele’ fame, how would you?

The Waffles today is a Waffles that understands the business of being a DJ and also is more passionate. I was very passionate then but I’m definitely more passionate now because now I aspire to be bigger than what I thought I would be when I was performing ‘Adiwele’ that day. I aspire to be a whole bigger artist, to do a lot of big things. Then I had a dream just to break in, that’s what I was working to do. Now I’m working on being the breakthrough for ‘piano, for commercial sounds, to get into Billboard, to get to the GRAMMYs, to get to all these places, you know.

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It’s quite surreal to scroll a little further back on your Instagram feed, now with millions of followers, and come across those very videos of you from only a couple years back, of a younger you filming yourself practising blends on the decks. What’s been the weirdest thing to get used to on this rapid ascent?

Yeah how crazy. The weirdest thing is people invalidating that you’re playing just because you’re performing, because people don’t think those things can coexist. That was the weirdest thing because when I was still a smaller name, I used to feel the need to justify it constantly. I used to always be like, you can literally do both. The song is three minutes. Trust me, me dancing for 30 seconds will not change anything. But now I’ve gotten to the place where… you can see more people doing it. People do all types of things while they DJ, they go and hug their friends.

That’s something I noticed about your London show, it almost had a feel of a pop or rap show in terms of the level of energy and performance that you’re able to bring. And the same thing happens in that space when women dare to do more than one thing at once. It’s used as a way to dismiss your talent instead of being seen as an impressive feat.

100%. Especially around female DJs, there’s a constant hate simply because they’re doing something more than what they feel like conventional DJs should do. Which in reality, [the truth is] that people are now going to DJ shows to be entertained as well, people are going with the intention to go and watch some sort of performance. And thinking about all the people that get any sort of criticism, they are mostly Black women and Black DJs. They’re always invalidated. But they won’t say anything when male DJs do the same thing, which they do! A lot of men dance, they interact with each other, even pouring a drink [is] equivalent to just dancing for a few seconds. It’s literally the same thing.

In the face of that criticism, I love that the dance element of your shows has continued to grow and grow. What’s your inspiration when it comes to how you incorporate it into how you tour going forward?

Every time I think of how to incorporate dance, I always think of Beyoncé. Beyoncé is a powerhouse who can stand on her own. But when she has to do stages that are big, she always knows that visually you need a performance that people are mesmerised by. Yes they can be mesmerised by herself but one person on the stage that is supposed to cater to 70,000 people doesn’t give the same effect as it would if you had a team to be an extension of your expression.

So now that I’ve started doing bigger shows, bigger stages where they consider me, yes, a DJ, but as a DJ, I’m still at a disadvantage because I’m behind the booth. But when I have dancers and all these things, it has become more of a performance. Now I’m able to perform in stages where they wouldn’t consider DJs. Now I’m put on main stages even though they’ve never had a DJ on a main stage before. But they know that we can provide the performance aspect as well. So yeah, now when a stage requires me to go big, I always think how big can I go? And I always think Beyoncé, Beyoncé, Beyoncé.

Written by: Tim Hopkins

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