Alexandra-born Mr JazziQ first emerged as one-half of JazziDisciples, a South African DJ/producer duo which released a slate of projects that played an important role in Amapiano’s rapid journey from the township into the heart of the mainstream. And now, in 2021, Tumelo Manyoni has his eyes on a bigger prize: using his homegrown success to take over the global music scene. Specifically, he wants to turn his label, Black is Brown Entertainment “into the biggest label in the world”. “Not just the biggest label in South Africa – but the biggest in the world,” he emphasises.
It’s a big ambition but Mr JazziQ already has a track record that many long-established labels would envy. Working with Josiah Makoela, also known as Josiah De Disciple, he took his formative years of DJing while still a teenager into a duo that both helped shape Amapiano and also established it as a thriving industry.
At first DJing in DJ JazziQ’s home township of Alexandra, and then quickly expanding into Thembisa and Soweto, the JazziDisciples began filming their gigs and including new tracks into their sets – and then shared these on different social media platforms. It helped create an appetite for the duo’s music in the club-going crowds so that when they began dropping singles like “Ara’Robala” and “Mogwasha” (2018), fans began streaming them in their big numbers.
Together with Josiah De Disciple, Mr JazziQ was instrumental in pioneering Amapiano, alongside the likes of DJ Maphorisa and Kabza De Small, helping turn it into one of the most popular sounds of South Africa over the past few years. Often seen as a sub-genre of house, Amapiano is – like gqom – defiantly original, drawing on deep house, jazz, and lounge music while also tracking a thread from 90s kwaito to deliver airy, percussive electronic music that is easily jumping borders.
“Being in the JazziDisciples was a big stepping stone in terms of my career and I’m thankful for being able to develop what I would consider more soulful Amapiano with Josiah,” says JazziQ.
Citing House legends, from Oskido to Shimza, Culoe Da Song, and Black Coffee as influences, the solo sound that Mr JazziQ has been developing since 2020 is “definitely more commercial”. “It’s also upbeat and is made for people to respond to instantly – whether something to sing along or dance to – or to listen to while relaxing,” he says.
His debut EP, 0303, was one of the breakout successes of 2020 with more than three million streams (as at March 2021). It also provided a showcase for Mr JazziQ’s ability to find the perfect creative collaborators on tracks like “Askies”, featuring Moonchild Sanelly, and “No 9”. The latter was made with Reece Madlisa and Zuma – two artists who Mr JazziQ worked with on Ama Roto (2020), co-released by Black is Brown Entertainment and packed with some of the biggest hits of the past year, including “Sithi Sithi”.
Mr JazziQ’s ability to build tracks that are raw, exuberant and vibrant is heard on one of his biggest tracks to date “Vsop” featuring Busta 929 along with Reece Madlisa, Zuma, Mpura, Riky Rick and 9umb.
He describes the track as “a township prayer” that reflects his desire to make original music that reflects real life – past and present. “It’s saying Lord, I am still young. I am trying to get money to feed my family but I also want a good life.” It’s no wonder that “Vsop” was used to soundtrack Johannesburg for the adidas Originals Anniversary City Series. “When you come to South Africa you want to come to the city,” says Mr JazziQ in the clip. “You don’t want to be in a fancy hotel somewhere else, you actually want to be walking the streets – feeling that, the smells, the textures. You can’t really describe it. You need to experience it.”
As part of that experience Mr JazziQ has opened a restaurant in Alex. Junk Park is where Amapiano lives and breathes and where new tracks are often first debuted. It’s also where he keeps his DJing skills honed. “Being a DJ is like being a comedian. If you’re a comedian, people have come to hear you make them laugh and if you’re a DJ, people are there to dance so you have to be able to be able to deliver that, every time.”
This year is seeing Mr JazziQ releasing new music, starting with the single “Woza” that has the producer calling in Kabza De Small, Boohle and Lady Du to create what is destined to be one of Amapiano’s most soulful and intoxicating tracks. Like “Woza” several of the new tracks off his upcoming album feature female vocalists at the fore – a signature of Amapiano that departs from gqom. Lady Du appears on several songs along with the likes of Nomayini and Boohle – and JazziQ is always on the lookout for new talent as part of his intention to build Black is Brown Entertainment into a global music force.
‘Vocalists are very important to the creative process and I’m always looking to work with underground and upcoming vocalists and artists,” says Mr JazziQ. “I love sharing my knowledge about how to attack a track, and how to deliver a vocal in a way that is emotional but uplifting and is always pulling people onto the dancefloor. It’s important to me to give back.”
Having played a number of heavyweight shows as part of JazziDisciples (including Afro Punk and Black Coffee’s Music Is King which he rates as one of his best ever live experiences), JazziQ is eager to make the break into an international audience. “Amapiano is energetic, uplifting, emotional, soulful and is ready to be taken to global electronic music fans – and I intend to be the one to do that,” he concludes.