Waffle’s We Want To Party.
Undoubtedly Africa’s next superstar, Uncle Waffles is the 22-year-old DJ sensation who come to prominence after a video of her DJ’ing in front of a hyped crowd went viral. Although her meteoric rise to popularity may have you thinking she’s an overnight sensation, this girl is no one-trick pony.
Born Lungelihle Zwane in Swaziland, Uncle Waffles, like many kids on the continent came from humble beginnings. Before becoming the internet sensation we now know her as, the would-be DJ originally had aspirations of being an aeronautical engineer, but when she wasn’t able to attend school due to lack of funding, a young Waffles would turn her dreams to show business. Earmarked for the big screen, she hosted a music and entertainment show on Eswatini TV and it would be here that she would hone her skills as a DJ.
With an accession to stardom that’s built on faith, hustle and a little bit of luck, Uncle Waffles is a one-of-a-kind talent. Putting her faith to the test, she left her hometown to play a gig in South Africa with just three days worth of clothes, and three days is all it would take for Uncle Waffles to become the talk of the town, after setting the internet on fire with her electrifying set. And she hasn’t looked back since.
A boundary breaker, Uncle Waffles is part of a new generation of African artists who have been making it big in recent months. Waffles’ unwavering confidence, fashion sense and DJ skills have won her a swathe of global fans, including hip-hop superstar Drake, who followed the young DJ on Instagram and is often seen commenting on her IG Lives.
Now pushing ‘Piano internationally, I met with Uncle Waffles during one of her days off. Taking a much-needed break from a touring schedule that sees her jetting from London to Dublin before heading to Birmingham & Manchester. We sat in a busy lobby of the Hilton in Kensington and here, we would discuss it all – from her meteoric ascension, tribulations of social media trolls, her upcoming EP and of course, AmaPiano.
Welcome to London, I know it’s your first time here so how have you found it so far?
It’s very cold. It’s very very cold but I love the fact that we can leave at like 11 pm and walk around the streets. I’m a little scared, yes, but stuff is still open. I’ve never had that experience before, like ever.
Scared, why? What are you scared of here?
I’ve watched all the serial killer documentaries, so I know what happens here. I know what happens [laughs].
That’s a fair point – but London is relatively safe. I was lucky enough to be at your debut London show at Ministry of Sound. I was right there on stage behind you and the decks but you were super concentrating –
You know I can’t see the crowd when I’m DJ’ing, It’s a weird thing where I’m like completely oblivious, even when people call my name on the street. I can’t hear them. I think it’s a way of my mind protecting me. Like, I don’t feel like this whole thing is happening to me still, so.
As a DJ, everyone has something – like Coffee is very chill and doesn’t get too hype. Phori just vibes and might jump on the mic. What would you say is your calling card as a DJ? What’s your greatest strength?
I used to not see it till I had to start analysing myself. Unfortunately when you get to a place where the Twitter thing starts making you question what you actually do, so at some point I used to thoroughly analyse everything I did. So any video that was taken of me, I’d need to actually look and see what do people actually see there, and then I think my power comes in my actual entertainment value when it comes to the music. You can see that it’s genuine, like it’s very very genuine, nothing is scripted and you can see that everything you see is actually in that moment, even if it’s the same song. Like, I think it’s my entertainment value or my ability to express the music through me as well. Even if you’re looking from outside and you’re trying to see what song is playing, you’ll be like whatever song is playing there it’s really good.
I agree, and I don’t think I’ve seen a DJ interact with the crowd the way you do. I was standing behind you trying to catch the vibe, there was like a whole different party happening behind you.Would you say your success has been a blessing and a curse? Because it comes with everything that you want but it also comes with a lot of stress I’m guessing that you may not have anticipated.
Uhm, yes! Like I had to go from you’re a DJ just hustling trying to make it, to you’re a DJ who can play nine gigs in two days and has to fly out to another country so I immediately had to come into understanding the business, understand how the money is generating and understand that you have to build a team that loves you. Like as much as people have their advantages and disadvantages, you have to build a team that completely loves you, people that will genuinely dedicate their time – that’s why I’m so blessed to have my team, like my team are people who when this whole thing happened they took it as if it happened to them, like here they are, they dropped their lives to make sure that the brand I’m building is steady so I think that was the biggest thing.
But overall it’s like a blessing, I’m able to help my family, like things that my family was struggling with they can call me now and I can immediately take care of it. I’m very blessed that at 21, when she calls me now I don’t even think twice I’m like here, have it.
For someone who doesn’t know – what is the South African music scene like right? Because outside looking in, it looks like it’s rocking.
I think AmaPiano has resurrected the music scene where people can actually make money from music, like make real money where they can really live life with it. And also, because AmaPiano is a very collaborative space, it’s actually encouraged people in all genres to be collaborating. Like you never hear of ‘Piano beef, like you don’t hear of people beefing, what?! There’ll be ten people on a song, if you say something during the session and they like it, they’ll add it to the song – it’s just a collaborative space so I think it’s made people realise that actually, we can all co-exist like we can all be in the same genre, all bring different elements and all still be booked the same way and all still get the same money so I think that’s what is brought. And also, it’s made a lot of people take musicians more seriously because it’s like, actually, you can really generate something crazy. You’re actually valuable and I think that’s great. Artists now don’t feel like they really have this passion for music but can’t do it, it’s just like look at Phori over there, look at him.
We’ve been talking about it here in the UK for a while because we’re still trying to sell it to the masses and the old guard, but what is it about AmaPiano that’s allowing it to break through internationally? Because South Africa has had other genres before like Deep House, Gdom, or Kwaito
It’s because there’s no alternative version of ‘Piano, I think that’s what makes it unique. Like there’s nowhere else you’re going to get ‘Piano the way you get ‘Piano in South Africa. The moves, the entertainment value, like when you go on Tik Tok you see so many people trying to copy the moves, or create dances and all things like that and I think that’s something that never really happened around music in South Africa.
So what does the evolution of Uncle Waffles look like? Because you can’t be an Uncle forever, we’ve seen DJs like Black Coffee who have managed to transcend being pigeonholed as African DJs and play in Ibiza. So what comes next for you?
I want Uncle Waffles to always remain a DJ but I also want her to be everything in every space, like every space where I feel like I’d do a good job so I’m looking into possibly having a reality show because I actually feel like I’m very disconnected from the people who follow me because when everything happened I decided to step back and took a huge part of my personality out of my social media and my interactions so I think a reality show to give people a glimpse into yo, I’m actually a person, actually a pretty cool person and pretty funny too – Trevor Noah who? So to show a side of me that goes through emotions, sometimes the emotions carry me, but also the music side of me. Like I’m trying to make Uncle Waffles a complete brand where you can get a bit of everything but it’s genuinely me. Not when people forcefully go into other avenues because they have the power to, it all has to be things that are genuinely me. Not just chasing the bag. So yeah, Waffles, hopefully by God’s grace is going to be a superstar, and superstar that people genuinely relate to, like genuinely relate to.
And what does success look like for you?
Success for me, and this is going to be so cliche, but success to me looks like buying my mum a house. She made a lot of sacrifices and she wasn’t able to do a lot of things that she wanted to do for herself, so I think my definition of success is being like ‘Mom, here’s your home. It’s yours.’