Fiji Fantana talks Black youth, creativity and trap music in South Africa
Originally from Johannesburg, Fiji Fantana is the new DJ that you should probably start paying attention to in the new year. Whether it’s the music that he mixes, or his general creative outlook (or both, most probably), it’s difficult to not want to keep an eye on the work that he does. After this interview with him, I found myself even more intrigued than I initially was when going into the talk, despite his quite recent entry into this scene. But, being relatively new to the DJ world doesn’t seem to be something that phases Fiji Fantana. He sits across from me as he outlines his entry and interractions and, if anything, he’s described his experience in this community as quite positive. “Your little set is like your space of euphoria,” he tells me. “So it’s like – what is there to hate? With Ramen Noodle, I got a lot of love from other DJs which I appreciated.” Fiji’s 37-minute long trap mix, Ramen Noodle, has been gaining popularity as it enters its third week of release. It features tracks ranging from your favourite artists to the new, emerging ones that you’d probably only be discovering through the mix – dope artists hailing from multiple regions.
“I listen to hip-hop 80% of the time but moving to Cape Town just opened my mind to different streams of music. I’ve always been able to listen to rock or whatever but the older I got, the more inquisitive I got with other genres.”
Over time, the internet has become a clear and indisputable force in the emergence of artists and talents across genres, and spaces. But more than this, it’s acted as somewhat of a creative empowerment tool, a platform that makes it easy to acquire as many skills as you like, and be good at them – in some cases, even make money from them. I bring up Fiji’s previous involvement in music cover artworks and whether or not he’s still active in that field. “Not enough time”, he says simply. “My thing is that I’m never going to ask a person three times to do something for me, so the only reason I started doing artworks is because I was waiting on people to do stuff. I’ve got the stuff, so I can watch tutorials, read a book and make whatever. The thing is, we’re all growing artists so no-one ever speaks money, and it’s fine but I’m doing so much of my own stuff and I don’t have time to do that. I’m not a perfectionist but I’m also not a person who’s going to put out weak shit.”
“Ramen Noodle cover was popping, the mix was popping. I won’t release something unless I’m 100% happy.”
Fiji Fantana, still in his 20s and studying, has a slightly different outlook to the many people that spend time trying to succeed in one particular field and hope that it sustains them. Instead, he rather sees things as they are at the time. “I don’t see myself being a DJ in 10 years. I just see it as something that I can do,” he explains. “I always say that I’m an artist in learning and we’re always learning to do more. So my thing is to just create and create. Out of everything that I do, I don’t know what is going to get me to a point where I’m happy or successful. But because we have the time and we have the means to do it, why not?
What made you want to start DJing?
FIJI FANTANA I didn’t really enjoy going out in Joburg specifically and, when I moved to Cape Town last year, I went to clubs like Waiting Room, and they’d be playing songs that I would be bumping at the time. Then, I’d come back to Joburg and it would be that very general, commercial hip-hop that we all know. I had a feeling that I could DJ in a specific way that would relate to a whole crowd of people.
A lot of the older DJs don’t have a connection to the young people right now.
We had this app launching in Cape Town and basically they needed a DJ. I stayed in a house this year, and just because of me playing music around the house, one of my homies there who I started DJing with, RnB Joe, was like “Trust me. Let’s do this and we’ll fuck it up.” And we killed it. We were supposed to play for like 30 minutes, just because they didn’t know what we were going to do. The crowd shook. We ended up playing for like an hour, and started getting gigs here and there, just from word of mouth. We got a lot of love individually and both of us. After the hype of us getting so many gigs in Cape Town – it think we did like 15 in Cape Town with no released music – we tried to hit up bigger events, and they’d either not reply just because we didn’t have a Soundcloud or anything, or it would be like “We can’t really hire you if we don’t know what you’re about.” So, when I came back to Joburg, I decided that I needed something tangible for people to hear.
With your live sets and mixes, do you ever have your audiences in mind or do you just play what you want to play?
FIJI FANTANA We’d always know the party beforehand so [we] would kind of suss out the audience. There was a magazine launch in Cape Town where I made a set that I was uncomfortable with because I was thinking of the crowd. The worst thing about DJing is that you can see the crowd’s reaction while you’re playing. They were loving the songs that I was playing, but they weren’t songs that I was happy with. If you’re going think about the crowd, it’s really going to start taking out a generic set list – that’s why all of my sets have been different, and we got gigs off of word of mouth so that means we did a good job. You know when a song’s going to bang.
“If you want to keep it organic, clean, fresh you need to have a new set and it has to be about yourself. It’s not from a narcissistic point of view. I’m not a radio DJ, there’s no-one telling me what to do, and that’s how I get a fan or get love back or whatever, because I didn’t have to play what I did.”
What is influencing you right now? Are there other DJs that inspire you?
FIJI FANTANA Personally, it’s no shots or anything to the DJs that are up there because some of them are good, but there’s no DJ that inspires me. I’m a trap DJ and my big influence in terms of trap right now is the biggest scene in trap, the ATL. If you hear the songs [on Ramen Noodle], most of the people that I put on were from ATL. Like, I always have a Father song in my mixes because I feel like that’s the movement right now, even with South Africa, and I don’t think people know it.
“There’s that club/pop bottles lifestyle that is going out but that’s going to slowly die. It’s more of the year of the creatives, the innovators, the people that do it for themselves. With me looking for songs, I look for unconventional stuff. I look for a rapper that hasn’t blown.”
One of my mixes uses people that are quite known, but that’s going to be a different genre. I want to show my versatility with that mix. There’s a huge team [of rap artists] on my level or even above me – those are the niggas that influence me. There’s a list I could sit down and name to you from PTA, from Joburg. Some of them are in [Ramen Noodle], like KudaFreshBunz, Majik, Shaka Lungz, Ricco, Simmysimmynya, Dada Shiva, Patrick Lee – it’s the young niggas on the come up. Those are the people that influence me and that’s where my pressure comes from, because I know that we listen to the same things, so how do I get their shout-out? If I mixed 10 songs that you last played, you wouldn’t have said anything is different in my mix, but I’ve got things that you’ve probably never heard before, or never expected to hear in a mix, or niggas that you don’t know. People think they are unknowns but they’re literally young underground kings.
“There’s so many artists, and that’s why I’m saying there’s a new movement coming, in South African street culture, hip hop, everything, and its literally about to blow. Just with one or two rappers entering, it’s going to open doors for so many niggas.”
In terms of the consumer base, the people sitting at home, it’s going to look weird like “Who are all these new people coming in?” but if you go and actually search for these parties and go to these locations, these people are killing it out there. We have something here. We are the people that are going to the shows, we are the people that are buying the CDs or streaming the stuff so we have that capability. Why wait for a guy who’s not from our generation to pitch something to us? Let’s make our own things.
Do you foresee Cape Town being the leading city of this movement?
FIJI FANTANA I’ve been based both in Cape Town and Joburg. Some of commercial Cape Town – just in terms of creativity and people – has got a very European, Western way of it. I don’t want to jump in too deep into Cape Town because it’s so multi-dimensional. We’ve just seen Youngsta blow up in SA’s eyes but if you go to Cape Town, he’s massive, like an OG. I don’t know enough about Cape Town to say much, but when I’m in Cape Town, they’re always looking to what Joburg is doing. Gauteng in general is a definite leader of this movement that’s coming. Cape Town has its own thing.
“The thing about this movement is that it’s coming from all angles, in terms of art and clothing because we’ve learnt from these big brands and we’ve learned what we don’t like. So we have the capability of making our own.”
But in terms of hip-hop, Gauteng is the leading driving force in the upcoming music. Even if you look at the names that are up there already, it is Gauteng.
Going forward, what are your plans for the future and for 2017?
FIJI FANTANA I don’t need anyone to tell me, but Ramen Noodle is hot. I was just excited because it’s my first one and its 37 minutes long. Obviously in terms of data and data prices, that will scare people. But if you listen to the whole thing and not one song evokes a reaction in you, then I don’t know. In terms of my creative process, right now that’s the easiest thing I can sell to people – me as the DJ. But we have a few things cooking. For me, it’s my year of surrounding myself with people that aren’t scared to create.
“My dream is to be sitting with people where we have created something and where we are all owners and we are all, hopefully, Black owners, just because we have the capability of doing that.”
Right now, I’ve got a job in the advertising industry which I recently started. You sit there and realize that corporate brands just want to be in sync with the Black mind so much, but you can’t be in sync with us because we’re like water – you can’t hold water, we’re always moving. My dream in 10 years is to have a brand that is platform to showcase Black artists. I want us to demolish all these white-washed industries that we don’t think are white-washed but are still really white-washed.
Do you have any last words to get out the people?
FIJI FANTANA Bump Ramen Noodle. Really, bump Ramen Noodle and watch out for the name Fijii Fantana. Let’s support each other as Black youth, because that’s my biggest thing. It’s something that we’ve lost in a way, but we’re coming back to it. We’re all creative and, in whatever field we’re in, we’re innovators. You can be an accountant but you can be HAMest accountant. Let’s just support each other and, with that, support Fiji Fantana because I’m for the youth right now. When I cook, I cook for the youth…
Stream Fiji Fantana‘s Ramen Noodle mix below and follow him on Twitter to keep up with future shows and mixes.