Today we take a look at one of SA house music pioneers DJ Cleo, specifically at his Es’khaleni series which ran from 2004 to 2007.
DJ Cleo’s sound was unconventional at the time but had a mass appeal that garnered much success for him. His appeal was to a larger audience in many demographics, he cultivated a following and carved an identity for himself through a sound that was later unofficially dubbed “Tavern Music” in the streets.
The sound was rugged, dirty and sounded very kitsch, which and people quickly grew tired of it. However, DJ Cleo always pushed boundaries and would often experiment with a plethora of sounds and techniques. For instance, Ruthless sounded like nothing in the market at the time and it was a hard cut between the people who love the song and people who outright disliked it. Like this review from Tiisetso Tlalima on Channel 24, in 2008;
“Maybe DJ Cleo should just stick to producing joints for other artists because we’re all starting to wonder why he’s become a household name as one of Mzansi’s respected house DJs. When I first heard that “Wena Ng’hamba Nawe” tune with a chorus that sounds like it was done by unrehearsed high school cheerleaders, I thought what a dreadful song.
But then people seem to be playing it everywhere. So maybe Cleo does know what he’s doing. Maybe not. The rest of the album subjects us to off-tune beats and mediocre vocals in “I May Not Be Perfect”, an annoying synthetic ripping sound in “Ruthless” and an imitation of Queen Seseko’s cheesy bubblegum voice in “Jaiva Kuze Kuze”. C’mon Cleo you don’t really wanna be seen as the house version of Arthur: no one really wants to listen to these off-key shebeen house joints. Quit trying to make quick bucks with these fly-by-night jams. We want the real deal!”
A harsh but valid review from Tiisetso Tlelima, considering the refined House era of SoulCandi. An era where fans were slowly introduced to the global sounds that are now regarded as the golden standard. Due to this, we saw a decline in DJ Cleo’s popularity in 2008.
However, we can not deny that DJ Cleo made some memorable music that we danced to and enjoyed, like is out the gate hit “Do It” from his first release of Es’Khaleni and many more that followed.
DJ Cleo – Es’Khaleni
Ultimately, we think that DJ Cleo’s contribution to the game cannot go unnoticed. The Es’khaleni series has some golden moments that will forever be cemented in South African Pop Culture. The nostalgic feel of the album is what were are here for. We certainly hope that this series of album stays in SA music archives and recognized for its impact and DJ Cleo’s versatility.
Talk to us in the comment section and let us know what you think.