On: Sketchy Bongo

On: Sketchy Bongo

We’re standing inside the Westville Mall, watching the balls of hail splatter onto the ground from a crevice in the ceiling. It sounds like a furious singer scatting. That performance is cut short by another.

“This is real life,” Sketchy Bongo exclaims as he grips my shoulders. “You’re rolling with The Wolf Pack!”

He balls up the car keys into his fist and gets ready to move. Aewon Wolf offers me his jacket so I can put it over my head (black girl hair problems, yo) and with that, we’re out.

Sketchy Bongo, whose real name is Yuvir Pillay, drives us out of the mall while it’s storming. There’s a tree in the road and a flood in our sneakers and the three of us are shocked that the weather took such an abrupt turn. One minute it was fine and the next, everything changed. Kind of like how Sketchy Bongo’s presence in the industry has played out.

Let’s rewind.

Arnold Philips – aka Aewon Wolf – and Sketchy Bongo grew up together in the lush Westville suburbs. They were a part of a self-confessed conscious rap crew and Aewon Wolf and his brother were behind the now iconic Run DBN brand. But it was only when Aewon Wolf broke into the mainstream and brought The Wolf Pack crew with him that people started to pay attention. But by then, it was too late.

At the beginning of last year, Durban was still famous for its kwaito, house and warm weather. Then in 2014, Aewon Wolf dropped Kumnandila, a very different song featuring primustof pioneer, Okmalumkoolkat. It was produced by Sketchy Bongo. The hugely popular pop ditty, Back to the Beach, by Shekinah and Kyle Deutsh, followed and so did A Week Ago by Aewon Wolf and Tribal. Shekinah and Deutsh fittingly opened last weekend’s Metro FM Music Awards with their collabo.

Summer Fever came through as did Walking and Dabbing – both by Aewon Wolf featuring Gemini Major – and Let You Know by Shekinah is one of the biggest hits countrywide at the moment. All these songs were produced or co-produced by Sketchy Bongo. Alone, he also worked on Tamara Dey’s Sama-nominated project, Death by Misadventure.

He might be the man with the Midas touch if the gold plaque for Back to the Beach sitting in his studio is anything to go by, but he’s also known as the producer with the mask on.

He doesn’t wear it in real life, but before the storm, we sat down for a meal and he explained that “the ski mask is a way for me to get into character on stage. So I become this crazy person”.

Then Aewon Wolf clowned him: “Sasha Fierce!”

Sketchy Bongo wagged his finger at him jokingly and laughed. Then he continued: “I perform better on stage with it. When we first started, with Kumnandila with Okmalumkoolkat, I didn’t even DJ then. I would just come on stage and go crazy and dance. I’m a professional dancer. Okay, so I’m not a professional dancer, but when I put the mask on, I kill it!”

Sketchy Bongo is really funny and really confident. The Snapchat king pauses conversations to take snaps and argues constantly with Aewon Wolf. The Wolf Pack might consist of Shekinah, Aewon Wolf, Kyle Deutsh, Sketchy Bongo, Gemini Major, Sheen Skaiz, Nasty C, DJ Deemo, Patzin, Run DBN Pound and Nag, but the bromance between Sketchy Bongo and Aewon Wolf is real.

Take this exchange, for example:

Aewon Wolf: “Let You Know is probably the biggest song in South Africa, but I still hear people mention other songs…”

Sketchy Bongo: “No one mentions other songs!”

AW: “I was just watching TV this morning…”

SB: “What TV channel were you watching? It’s not relevant, clearly. Were you watching MTV? Were you watching Channel O? Were you watching Vuzu? Were you watching Trace? Because I’m No 1 on all of those channels. Excuse the arrogance, I’m just trying to motivate people. No one doubts me. Don’t put doubt in people’s hearts. Right now, I have the biggest song in the country for this September in my pocket. A Shekinah song. Quote me on that.”

I do, because the charts don’t lie. Before we wrap up our day together, I get a sense of where he sees himself in the broad landscape that is South African music. Earlier, he’d told me: “Other people may be doing what we’ve done, but by the time they have done what we’ve already done, we would have already done the next thing.

“Now we’re dropping WildSide with Aewon Wolf and Kyle and it’s totally different. I want people to come to me and say that they want that sound, then I’m going to say: ‘No, that was that song. Let me make a song for you’.

“You know how many people ask me to do a song that sounds like Back to the Beach for them? But they’re not thinking creatively, they’re thinking in terms of money. I’m not trying to make money. I’m trying to further the South African music industry.”

So far so good, if Wonder-Boy, the Uber driver who picks up me and my soaked sneakers and dry hair (thanks, Aewon Wolf) from Sketchy Bongo’s studio, is any indication.

“Aaah, Sketchy,” Wonder-Boy smiles broadly at the producer. “I love your tune! It’s with you, nê,” he points at Aewon Wolf. “What’s it called again? Walking and Dabbing?”

The driver excitedly does the elbow dance and I look at the boys to see their reaction. They’re chilled, it’s still raining after all. But Sketchy Bongo makes Wonder-Boy promise to get me to the hotel safely and I have to admit, they are officially my favourite Durbanites – sorry, Shumaya boys.


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