Discovering the Collaborative Music Efforts of North the Jap and DJ Freaker

Author: Mandy Mbekeni
Photos: Malabela Photography

I’ve always wondered why artists all around the world use aliases. Stevie Wonder, for instance, was born Stevland Hardaway Judkins, and later changed it to Stevland Hardaway Morris. It’s not any different on our side of the world; your Proverbs, Sho Madjozi to King Monada, to mention a few, all use pseudonyms. I can’t help but wonder whether giving, or sharing your talents with the world, makes people obligated to keep something about themselves to themselves, even if for a name.

There’s a quote by John Dewey that says, “to find out what one is fitted to do, and to secure an opportunity to do so, is the key to happiness.” Would that be what it feels like to pursue a talent?

“North,” starts Kamogelo Tshabalala, professionally known as DJ Freaker, “is the mastermind of production.” From how Freaker praises his partner, it’s evident they hold each other in high esteem. There is a passion that’s unrivalled in the way they value this brotherhood. “We only became a duo in 2020/21; we’re chasing our second year together. It’s been a ride.” The duo goes by the name N & F Lecturers and consists of these young producers made up of North the Jap, whose real name is Leroy Hlalele, and DJ Freaker, who I mentioned above. They’re 26-year-olds with the most recent pleasure of collaborating with Universal Music South Africa on the fourth posthumous project, Forever, for the late Lebo Mathosa. The project predominantly includes remixes from three of the late singer’s biggest hits – “Au Dede,” “I Love Music,” and “Brand New Day.” They’re one of the artists given creative licence to use their creative spin on these forever classics. North’s reiteration of the song is a testament to his masterful skills as an audio engineer.

“We had a curfew, like most young kids,” says North. “Sometimes, because we’re DJs, we’d have gigs after nine p.m, and what did we do in those instances?” asks Freakers as rhetorically as that might sound to my ears. “We sneaked out.” Of course, to pursue talent and a gift, you break the rules – that’s the story of every renowned artist. And to fully master an art form, you bend the rules a little for the world and your peers to recognise you. I laugh only because there’s truth in this admission, which I am happy to hear and agree to.

Music, especially in a worldly context, almost feels like a prayer, an ask or a plea, to something bigger and unknown to all of us. When we give in to the pleasure of notes, lyrics, a drum and perhaps a spiritual revival if you will, we are no longer ourselves. In the truth and immunity we find in music, perhaps it our attempt to reveal and agree to a collective feeling or experience. One of the first few things you see when you visit North the Jap’s Instagram account is the following: 11:11 (god and ancestors), audio engineer/dj, award winning producer and 1632, the area code for Ivory Park, Tembisa. This, at face value, feels like a way to belong, to fit in, and attribute himself to. Because not for ourselves we are born but for the sense of delight and acceptance that comes with serving ourselves and the other.

But the township can be discouraging. “Our biggest fan base is outside of where we come from. Yes, we do have people from Tembisa who follow and love our work, but there’s a bunch that doesn’t even acknowledge what we do, and that’s disheartning,” says Freaker. “He’s right,” North chirps in, “I’m not sure what to call it. Jealousy? Envy? I don’t know but ja, there are people who don’t necessarily like us.” I can understand the confusion, especially for two gents who, against most odds, have tried to do and create something outside the norm. Maybe it is jealousy, the type that silently acknowledges the work but too pride to admit.

There’s lot in the works. And ikeja is one of those. Music is a collaborative effort and to have full access to tools, internet included, that take your dream further is one you can’t deny to guys who’ve fully accepted their fate. The year has only begun and it feels like the only way forward is up for the guys who, in the love for music, are connected through something otherworldly.

And as the sun touches the horizon while mulling over our conversation there’s a notification on my phone from North, “thank you again for having us, we felt like you were one of our own,” and before I can respond I realise I’ve also not even tried to remember to call the duo by their real names. But these two’s music is definitely the window to one’s soul. So, you tell me if Freaker and North aren’t perfectly fine names for young township dudes who wear their talents, hearts, and souls on their sleeves?

Check out North’s SC Profile