Creative Entrepreneurs: 5 Minutes with Booked & Busy LeloWhatsGood

When you ask someone “What do you do for a living?” or “What is your profession?” you expect them to name a single profession. However, it has become increasingly common for millennials to respond with multiple answers – Zane Lelo Meslani being one of them.

Zane Lelo Meslani, also known as Lelowhatsgood, is a multi-talented Johannesburg-based creative. What does he do, you ask? Many people know him as a DJ – who is set to play at this year’s AfroPunk festival. However, he is more than just a DJ, he is also a social media manager who dabbles in writing – and runs an event called ‘Vogue Nights’ – an inclusive, intersectional event and cultural movement that has music, art and dance at the core of its concept, created to provide a safe space for the LGBTQI+ community, and serve as a facilitator for queer excellence. Although juggling multiple careers can be a difficult thing to do, Lelo makes it look easy.

Photo by Thabo Mthombeni

The 23-year-old is becoming a prodigy that’s reshaping the South African queer culture. He represents the culture through his work – by breaking down social assumptions, generalizations, and misunderstandings about the queer community both in South Africa and around the world – his work not only focuses on these aspects, but also aims to honour and embody queer people and the culture around a world.

We caught up with ‘de multi-talented’ Lelowhatsgood to chat about his multiple careers and his set at AfroPunk this year.

Photo by Patricia Bosman

You are a DJ, editor/writer and a social media manager, and over and above that you are also the founder of Vogue Nights. How do you balance these careers?

I honestly don’t know how I still manage to balance these together. My days generally involve being a social media manager at Native and working after hours [if I’ve got a writing brief, or preparing for a set for an event]. With Vogue Nights Jozi, I’m glad I have people I can work with for extra support when things get busy in preparation for the event. The key things here are just being able to find time for all these moving parts to make it all happen. 

When and how did your DJ career begin?

My DJ career began when Fela Gucci from FAKA put on an event for queer music artists (at that time), and that’s how I landed my first gig. Thereafter I attended workshops by Colleen who handles Pussy Party at Kitcheners, which is basically an incubator for queer and femme DJs. I learnt the art of mixing, song selections, how to prepare a set and most importantly, I had already established a good following on social media to put myself out there and market the brand. The journey from there just took its’ course and here I am. 

What are you trying to achieve through Vogue nights. Can you tell us more about it and how often it happens. Can anyone attend? 

Vogue Nights Jozi is basically a LGBTQ+ underground scene, there has been an increased demand for more ‘safer spaces’ in nightlife for queer bodies.

We’ve seen the globalisation of ballroom culture which started in New York City in the 80’s by Black and Latinx gays and trans womxn. It’s a place to call home, to find people who experience the same violence from the broader society and get to come together into one space and celebrate each other through competing in categories for trophies and praise. People form houses to compete with a founding Mother and Father. VNJ aims to be inclusive and diverse, through the music, the resident DJs, the fashion, and the art of it. What we have really tried to do is localise it to our own understanding and make it our thing, but still pay homage and respect to the culture. It happens at least once a month and anyone can attend – we do however centre the experiences around queer folks and womxn – mainly because club and nightlife culture in South Africa can be toxic and violent so I try to make it feel as safe as possible for people to have fun. 

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What is your creative process?

My creative process varies all the time. I’m mainly inspired by talking to people and getting to know the world around me as well. I’m always pushed by how I can change narratives, represent people as best as possible through my writing and also just being in tune with socio-political issues that effect us.

How are you preparing for your Afro Punk gig?

I’m preparing for it through playing at other gigs and still finding new music to add. I have a different idea of what I want to play every day – so we’ll see when we get there.

How has your career as a DJ been so far, and what has your experience been like as a queer DJ? FAKA mentioned that the only time gay/queer people get booked is during Pride Month. Is this true?

My DJ career has been on a rise and I’m truly grateful for all the gigs I’ve played – whether big or small. People have given me the opportunity and I show out (and show up) every single time. My experience as a queer DJ has been okay, I guess. FAKA does have a point – whereas local queer artists are more recgonised and booked internationally than here. It’s promoters who wouldn’t think twice about making their lineups more inclusive but would rather put on their friends who are cis-heterosexual males. It’s a cold game. 

What is your first love? Writing, social media or DJing?

I would say writing, but all of these things are synonymous as they play a big part/role into who I am. I wouldn’t survive without music, therefore the DJing plays into that. And social media got me to where I am, by virtually meeting people who are like-minded and willing to work with you, as well as being able to promote myself.

Can you talk us through your weekdays and/or weekends?

My weekdays are 9-4 work at the office, coming up with good ideas, writing copy for brands and meetings. After that, it’s just working overtime on personal projects. Weekends are spent with friends, family and preparing for upcoming gigs.

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Photo by Thina Zibi

What is your goal? 

I’d love to travel – because of the work I do and meet other creatives from different cities across the world. 

What is your vision for the South African creative industry? 

To include black creative kids. Include black queer and trans kids.

What advice would you give to others who aspire to be like you?

Be yourself no matter what. Find your own path and don’t really lean into whatever is popular at that time. Authenticity matters and it counts. If you’re not going to put in the work then you can forget about reaping the fruits of your labour. Work smart and be sustainable as well so that you don’t burn out, Most importantly, remember to have fun. 

Photo by Nkhensani Mkhari

Between 10 and 5