Meet Lwazi Asanda Gwala, better known as DJ Lag, one of the pioneers of GQOM, the hottest sub-genre of house music branching from Kwaito House and Shangaan Electro, blasting through your speakers straight from Durban, South Africa. Spreading its wings first to London, then touring Europe and Asia, the genre has become internationally known in the last couple of years, but is still emerging in local scenes on this side of the planet. I first became acquainted with gqom this past winter when I was hypnotized by a colleague’s set in Toronto, but if you haven’t heard it before, I would tell you that the music is intense. Exploring the audience at Mutek, I asked some music lovers to describe their first exposure to me, and they stated that it made them “stop in their tracks” on the dance floor for a second, not knowing what to do with it, but shortly after a quick pause, feeling this new minimal groove. The heavy bass is contagious, so it’s not a surprise that DJ Lag was a highlight for me on the Mutek program. I was lucky to catch the young star after his soundcheck for Mutek’s Nocturne 1 at SAT. Sitting down in the park beside the venue, he gave me a few minutes of his day to tell me a bit about the music.
“For me gqom is life because I know the beginning of the sound, since I’m one of its founders. Me and a few others, we were just playing around, and basically we made a genre”. He claims to have never expected his music to take off in the way that it has, as he had produced hip hop for years, but gone unnoticed until he started to create gqom. It started off as a FruityLoops Studio DIY music project to play for his friends, producing music for their Bengha dance crews – Lag himself was a Bengha dancer until producing became a serious gig for him. The ethnomusicologist in me was intrigued to hear him say that he samples Maskandi [traditional Zulu folk] music, and that the people who show up to his events are really excited to be a part of the experience of this fusion of samples, offbeat rhythms, and fragmented vocals, along with the influence of his hip hop production roots, the use of synthesizers and heavy, heavy bass. DJ Lag’s hybrid DJ set lit SAT on fire at Mutek’s Nocturne 1, setting the bar high for the rest of the festival. He ended his performance with a bit of national pride, waving a huge South African flag around the stage, leaving the crowd whistling, cheering, and wanting more.
Give DJ Lag a listen and experience gqom for yourself:
Psst…! If you like GQOM, or if you’re curious about it, check out the Afro Haus event series in Toronto, featuring resident DJ Sarah Jane Riegler and a different special guest she brings for each party. Her events are filled with professional dancers from the local community and you won’t be disappointed.
Article by: Jillian
Jillian Fulton is a PhD candidate in Social Anthropology at York University in Toronto. Her work explores electronic music scenes of Toronto and Montréal. For more information about her project, find her on social media @chebakhadijah or email her at email@example.com.
Cover photo by Bruno Destombes.