The Art of Transition: Strategist Fif_laaa Moonlights As A DJ With A Grand Plan to take over the Music Scene

I first met Refilwe Matabane in 2017 at David Tlale’s Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week show, she had long blonde braids and although she appeared shy and timid, you could tell by the choice of her hair colour that there was more to her than what meets the eye. She wore a white shirt and a long pinkish skirt, an usually arresting shade somewhere between purple and mauve. Everything about her suggested that she was creative.

Our paths crossed numerous times after that, at Great Dane, Kitchener’s, Rocking The Daisies, you name it. When you see someone’s face enough times, you start to care about who they are and what they do. We find ourselves bonding over advertising at a party after learning that we both work for the largest creative agencies in the country. We bitch and moan about the industry, make a stupid pact that involves alcohol – nothing new or unusual for people who work in advertising.

Barely a year after that, I came across an AfroPunk poster with Refilwe’s face on it, the young strategist that I shared my frustrations with had now rebranded and went by ‘Fif_laaa’. Hold on, she’s a DJ and she’s playing at one of the biggest music festivals in the world. When did this happen?

I reconnected with the YFM resident DJ, strategist, and creative to chat about her career transition for our ongoing series ‘The Art of Transition’ which identifies and profiles creatives who have made the daring act of going after their dreams.

Image Credit: Funzi Tshabuse 

How did you get into the creative industry?

I am Refilwe Matabane, born and raised in the south of Johannesburg. Initially, I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life but I knew it had to be something in the creative industry. Studying Fine Art was the only path I thought would make sense but then I came across Vega School of Branding in matric. I obtained my Bachelor of Business Administration in Brand Building and Management and now work as a Strategist in Advertising.

What influenced your most recent artistic venture?

My mental health influenced my recent artistic venture. I needed something healthier outside of antidepressants and mood stabilisers because I just wanted to connect and feel something again. I also had people push me to get into music when I would put playlists together. I learned how to DJ as a hobby – I really expect didn’t expect it to bring me this far.

Tell us a bit about your upbringing and how music played a role in your life growing up.

I grew up in a household where I had my older sister playing 90s hip hop and kwaito all day which explains why I am considered the ‘old school Hip Hop Queen’. My mom would drive us to school every morning and the radio would always be on Kaya FM which we know has always played feel-good music.

Can you also tell us about your style or sound preferences; what’s your favourite genre?

My top favourite genre is Hip Hop – I love it for its poetry and the boom-bap type beats. J Dilla is one of my biggest influences when it comes to my style of playing. However, over the years I have also grown to love alternative music and learned how to mix the two genres to make my sets stand out from the rest.

What and who are your artistic influences?

I would have to say Frida Kahlo. There are many parts to her story which I relate to and through her, I’ve learned to never be ashamed of expressing my pain and vulnerability through my work. As a Visual Arts student, I got to understand and admire her art for what it is.

Are you able to blend your 9-5 with music? If yes, tell us how you are able to marry the two different worlds.

I am able to blend my 9 – 5 with music on the simple basis that it’s two things that I want for myself, therefore I have no choice but to make it work. I plan my time accordingly and fortunately enough, my gigs are mostly in the evening. I also take leave if I get booked for corporate events and it’s an even bigger bonus if my line manager at the time is very understanding and allows for me to take a few hours off work for the music.

Image Credit: Don Kat Seles 

Take us through your creative process, how do you prepare for a gig?

I always start off with one song that has been playing in my head all day and use that to find other songs that match the same beat, tempo, percussion, etc. Whether it is through Spotify or the music library that is already in my head. However, most of my sets are based on my emotion at the time and with having prior knowledge of the venues/events I’m playing in.

What’s the best thing about being a young, gifted woman in the South African creative scene right now?

Being acknowledged as one of the upcoming badass DJs. This has opened up so many opportunities for me and it also provides me with the platform to put on other talented and gifted young black South African women such as myself.

What are you currently listening to?

I am currently listening to some local hip hop. My favourite track out right now has to be We Outside by Windows 2000 ft. Maglera Doe Boy. It’s like new school Motswako.

Your top 5 (local) favourite albums?

Maru a Pula – Morafe
Halloween – TKZee
Levels – AKA
Soul Candi Session 4
Skhanda Republic – K.O

Image Credit Don Kat Seles 

Can we expect an EP or music produced by you in the near future?

You can definitely expect an EP from me early next year. I am so excited to take my music to the next level. Be on the lookout ?

Listen to Fif_laa’s playlist here:

Between 10 and 5