Behind DJ Cleo’s well-defined Mohawk, biceps and tattoos lies a strong love for music that keeps him going. His drive to succeed is not inspired so much by hit songs, than by creative genius.
Born Cleophas Monyepao, this DJ who doubles up as a producer, started making music when he was ten years old. A couple of decades later, his disco ball is still turning.
“People compare me to David Guetta? Really? That’s humbling, but I disagree. Not yet. Not yet. Not yet. That time will come,” he says carefully.
“Right now the most important is just for me to get my career going. Once you’ve established yourself, try very hard to sustain so that’s all I’m trying to do. Just do me, and, keep the ball rolling, for as long as possible.”
DJ Cleo started producing in 1995. It was not a planned career move; he was interested in sound engineering while in school and when he was done studying he knew that that is what he wanted to do for a long time. A stint at YFM affirmed to the DJ that this was a love story in the making.
Shortly after, Will of Steel Productions was born.
“I wasn’t catapulted straight up into stardom,” he says, equating his growth to a young journalist who gains mileage with small articles first in ‘obscure’ newspapers before securing a spot in the massive magazines.
One avid memory however is when ‘Good-bye’ from his second album caught the fancy of the South African music scene like water to a fire.
“After that it was the song from my fourth album Ndihamba Nawe, it was the song. It’s one of those things; magic happens in magical ways. Whoever did the magic for me with that track, I still don’t know what it was. It worked and BOOM.”
As he continues to grow and recently made his first trip to Nairobi for the Fahrenheit Party, DJ Cleo says that one day he hopes to have even half the talent possessed by Canadian producer David Foster.
Look at even Quincy Jones. At 79, he has made an impact. I want to be like that, I want to have that kind of an impact.
DJ Cleo intimated that his production work sustains the Deejaying, and that with the evolution of music, being a good producer automatically means that you are also a good DJ.
The South African, who has been branded ‘King of House Music’ hopes that one day musicians will be taken more seriously on the African continent.
“There’s a huge gap between musicians and leaders. Politicians refer to us as ‘those artistes’ and yet they need us when before and after their rallies. In fact many people go to the rallies to watch the artistes perform. You’re welcomed on stage but when you’re backstage, you’re treated as a threat. The day that balance is struck, then maybe we will get the respect we deserve.”
“Support coming from that is what we need in curbing things like piracy,” he stressed.
The tall DJ always goes with his gut, explaining that you ‘can’t force things’ when it comes to creativity.
“I’m always up by 7.30am, every day. When I hit the studio and nothing happens, it’s just as productive as when you get to the studio and do two songs. Sometimes you need to talk to get inspiration.
DJ Cleo does little without researching, but when it’s time to unwind, there has to be some cool jazz tunes playing in the background. Especially after performing at a gig like the Fahrenheit Party, organised by Avant Garde PR.