AT THE age of 19, house DJ and producer Culoe de Song is breaking ground on international dance floors – making him one of the few South African house music exports.
In the space of a few months, Culoe has achieved what most 19-year-olds, including some big names on the local DJ scene, could only dream of. Besides travelling the world, international house music labels have been knocking on his door wanting to buy his music – the latest being Mule Musiq from Japan, which will include the track The Fallen Siren on one of their releases this year.
Despite not winning the newcomer category for which he was nominated in the South African Music Awards (Samas) last week, Culoe has definitely stamped and sealed his place in the country’s deep house scene.
The Dispatch caught up with him this week ahead of his first tour to East London.
His stage name has fooled many music fans, leading them to believe that he’s from outside the country, however, Culolethu Zulu is proudly born and bred in KwaZulu-Natal and raised by a single mother. His father died when he was six years old.
Culoe has been producing music for the last three years for local DJs and building his brand on the deep house scene.
The rest of the country only became aware of him last year when he released his debut album, The Giant Leap, thanks to the track Webaba, which became an instant hit for party animals during the festive season.
The track, a remix of Busi Mhlongo’s song Webaba Omncane, has a lush, hypnotic, soulful groove with heavy African rhythms and chants. He also features Thandiswa Mazwai on the track Gwebindlala. His music can best be described as dance music influenced by African rhythms.
Culoe says the CD is a celebration of his journey in music. “It’s a compilation of projects I have been working on for some time, including a studio collaboration with Thandiswa. It’s an album celebrating my achievements and the big steps I have taken since I started working on my music two years ago.”
Getting the attention of the likes of Mazwai and Mhlongo is not easy. Both have busy schedules and record label commitments, and Culoe was in his teens and fairly unknown.
“I met mam’uMhlongo in a number of situations, such as launches. It was an a c appella project from 2000. I remixed it and in the end it became Webaba. Even the way it sounded was different. She was really into the music from when she heard the song. I was happy she was touched by my music. It was a great honour to be working with her and for me it was a spiritual thing rather than just working with another a c appella project.”
Although he was tipped to take the best newcomer award at the Samas , Culoe is not fazed by not winning. The backing of the audience when Webaba played during the back- to-back set with DJs Oskido, Cleo and Liquid Deep, was enough to humble most big-headed DJs.
“It was a great award for me just being nominated. It was nice to meet and jam with the people that have been in the industry for a long time. It doesn’t really matter whether I will ever get another shot at the Samas because I’ll just carry on making music as I have been doing.”
The magic started when Culoe met DJ Black Coffee in Durban. He was 17 years old at the time and the latter was immediately sold on the idea of including one of Culoe’s tracks on his album Another One. He made a good impression on Black Coffee, who immediately signed him to the record label Soulistic Music.
His big international break came in 2008 when he applied to attend the Red Bull Music Academy in Barcelona. Black Coffee, who previously attended the academy, was already reaping the rewards of international exposure, and it was time for the teenager to follow in his “teacher’s” footsteps.
The two weeks he spent there changed his world.
“We were a bunch of guys from all over the world. We shared ideas, cultures, and experimented with different kinds of music. It was an amazing experience and gives you credibility.”
It was during this time that he played at the Macarena Club. His set was so impressive that he was asked to submit his mix to Resident Advisor – which is dubbed the international mecca of online DJing.
Since then the deals to release tracks for international labels, as well as the opportunity to play in some of the world’s best clubs, have been flying in. He is currently signed to German label Innervisions.
“My family is very proud of me. It took a lot of dedication to do what I do. I was fortunate to have an understanding and trusting parent who allowed me to play at parties when I started playing. I’m inspired by the way people work hard to put food on the table and appreciate their families because the fundamentals of life really start at home.”
Catch Culoe at Man’s in King William’s Town this evening and later at Xanadu Music Lounge in Berea. Tomorrow he will be playing at Man’s in Mdantsane.