The Gqom King of Gugulethu

Author: Simon Sender
Photos: Bulumko Gana

Down an unassuming road in Gugulethu, lined with rows of shacks, numerous spaza shops, and a children’s Educare centre, lives one of South Africa’s brightest emergent stars of the ever-popular Gqom music scene. 

I met uBiza Wethu on a sunny afternoon in mid-November, outside the 6-room hostel where he stays, along with fifteen or so others. Biza meets me on the street, without his distinctive bucket hat, in grey flannel sweatpants and a loose-fitting striped t-shirt. He is friendly and soft-spoken, and his demeanor is far more gentle than what one might expect from one of the country’s most popular and sought after Gqom DJs and producers.

Biza may just be beginning to get national recognition, but he has been making music since 2006, using basic mixing software on his desktop computer. His minimal setup now includes speakers, a mix desk, and microphone, but little else besides. He still does his mixing and recording at a simple desk opposite a bed in his single room, flanked by a fridge, microwave, and clothes cupboard. On the wall is a large pencil sketch of Biza and his girlfriend, and a picture of his mom, who died in 2009 – just one year after his father had passed away. Despite the largely urban, youth appeal of Gqom, Biza tells me that his mom loved his music: “She was my number one fan”, he tells me earnestly. 

Biza grew up in Gugz, attending Fezeka High School and Cape College but dropping out in 2010. His interests were clearly more musical than academic—and Biza is absolutely dedicated to his craft. He spends hours online everyday – thanks in no small part to the unlimited connectivity provided by his Ikeja sponsorship – gleaning inspiration from musicians on YouTube, watching tutorials, and applying his skills to FL Studio and Automix. Being connected to the web also allows him to get his mixtapes out into the world and network with other big players in the field. 

Big players like, for example, DJ Tira, who commissioned him to work on his track Tira’s Boot (The Return) earlier this year, alongside the well-known producer Mampintsha. In 2020, Biza also showed up on the radar of international Gqom star and MTV Africa Music Awards nominee, Babes Wodomu, who flew him to Durban to work with her and Mampintsha on their record Kade Sbenuza, as well as the accompanying music video. You can find both tracks on YouTube, as well as Biza’s track Usagcwala Ngami, featuring TMan, and his collaborative single with Mr Thela, Freedom.

By now, Biza has played well over 100 venues throughout the country, though his favourite spot remains the Kwa Ace Lounge in Khayelitsha, where the adoring local crowd have perhaps the greatest claim of all to call him ‘wethu’. Biza first played at Kwa Ace in 2017 and has played there many times since, including a full summer residency. 

With two albums already to his name (2018’s Homemade Complilation and 2020’s My Story), Biza is preparing to drop album number three in 2022. The new record, titled My Story 2.0, is 70% complete and is slated for release somewhere in the middle of next year if everything goes to plan. 

As a digital musician, all of uBiza Wethu’s releases so far have been online only, which is yet another reason why being connected to the web is so important for him. By far the best way to access new music nowadays is online, which has completely transformed the way that musical artists like uBiza Wethu can get their music out into the world and build an audience. In fact, it is hard to imagine how any up-and-coming DJ would manage to gain traction without decent access to the web these days.

As someone whose star continues to rise, I ask Biza what the dream looks like over the next 3–5 years and he paints me an attractive picture of the life of a London popstar, complete with mansion and fleet of fancy cars. His dream venue to play? “Easy, Wembley football stadium,” he says. For the immediate future, though, Biza is content to continue bringing his brand of Gqom joy to the local scene, where he enjoys celebrity status and acts as a mentor for the next generation of DJs and producers. 

As we say goodbye, Biza starts getting changed for the photographer to take some photos (I check to see if the bucket hat will make an appearance) and, with the trinity of Devil’s Peak, Table Mountain, and Constantiaberg looming in the distance, I’m happy to imagine Biza on the cusp of great things. 

I can’t help thinking his number one fan would be extremely proud.