Artist Stories, Stories

K-Dollahz’ Futuristic Nostalgia Waits On No Dimes

K-Dollahz by Ashiq Johnson Image by Ashiq Johnson / courtesy of the artist

“Fashion knows no gender” was, during her brief stint working there, Kalo Canterbury’s standardised response to patrons of Cape Town’s Corner Store enquiring about the availability of womenswear. It’s with the marketing campaigns of that booming retail culture-hub and her trademark sartorial sensibilities that many are likely to associate K-Dollahz (stylised ‘K-$’), an Athlone-born DJ on the come up who recently landed a prestigious gig at the ever-popular Cape Town Electronic Music Festival (CTEMF) set to take place on the weekend of 10-12 February. Some may know her from her colour-coded Instagram account: a conduit for consistent doses of comically indulgent vanity, a wardrobe comprised, almost exclusively, of sneakers and ‘menswear’, and wanton shit-talking about the mommies of her 2500+ followers. Kalo’s indisposition to the norm is striking, but more so are the subversive ends of their manifestations.

We arranged a morning rendez-vous at a coffee-shop near her Woodstock office. As of last week, she now 9-to-5s (from 10am to 6pm) at Black Major, having completed an internship with them while studying last year. She’s still learning the ropes of talent management but is finding her niche in helping to grow the brand of the leading management agency – which counts DJ Lag, Beatenberg, Bongeziwe Mabandla and Felix Laband on its roster – and those of the artists themselves. Her formal marketing training at Red&Yellow was preceded by studies at UCT in Film & Media, and, somewhat surprisingly, Earth and Geographical Studies or ‘EGS’. After this journalist’s dry quip that she’d been subconsciously preparing for a groundbreaking career, her charmingly uninhibited amusement thereupon stood in contrast to her typically ice-cold online persona. But that didn’t surprise me, because a conversation with Kalo reveals that she views ‘K-$’ much like she views the artists with whom her job it is to build relationships: as a brand.

K-Dollahz at Artclub and Friends launch by Carey Chanquin

K-$ performing at the launch of Artclub & Friends.
Image by Carey Chanquin for her series, ‘Curating Coloureds‘, courtesy of the artist.

With this mindset, Kalo markets what seems to be a paradox at first glance: at once a braggadocious alter-ego and an honest glimpse into who she is and what she stands for. But these two poles are reconcilable when you consider the whole package. The K-$ persona was established only when she started DJing music that is deeply meaningful to her, experimenting with fashion and cultivating a look, and becoming comfortable with being queer. She realises that a lot of people won’t get her vibe, but citing the universal right to flex on social media, Kalo rationalises her hyper-confidence as a vehicle for backing herself and her friends. Accusations of genuine arrogance fall flat because her Insta-boasts smack of enviable self-love: the product of someone who has found themselves and who takes pride in that fact.

Sartorially, Kalo’s image has been valuable to the aesthetic of Corner Store and the labels under its banner. Although she doesn’t do part-time behind the counter anymore, which helped her line her pockets before the DJ hustle began to bear fruit, you’ll still catch her on the decks at all their launch events. Ahead of the realisation curve that ‘real people’ are the new MVPs of clothing campaigns, she’s been a modelling fixture for Sol-Sol, Two Bop and Young & Lazy – labels run by close friends of hers who craft gear she swears she’d be happy to die in. It’s fortunate, then, that they sponsor her. Even pseudo-Italian top-tier menswear outlet, Fabiani, earned some street cred thanks to her gender-blending swagger on one of their campaigns. At the end of 2015, Anees Petersen (creative director at Young & Lazy) worked as a stylist on the brand’s collaboration with Happy Socks and recruited his pal Kalo. Who would’ve thunk it – K-$, in all her idiosyncratic glory – for Fabiani? The campaign was a success, too, garnering a positive response from a wider audience than was expected. And it’s precisely this type of going against the grain, quietly dismissing the status quo, that colours her presence in the Cape Town music scene.

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If CTEMF will be the first time you hear K-$ play, you’ll be in the festival-goer majority. She boldly entered the scene as a serious contender just a few months ago. The transition to legitimacy was an expedient one; so much so that she confessed genuine surprise at nabbing a CTEMF spot – her expectations projected a timeline that would only see her playing a gig of those proportions closer to 2020. Yet here she is. Evidently, her modesty in this regard is ill-founded, especially considering the sweet-spot she’s created for herself in a largely racially-divided Cape Town party scene. Having grown up spending most of her time in Athlone, Ottery, Belgravia and Greenhaven, before completing her secondary and tertiary education in the Southern Suburbs and the city bowl, Kalo’s identity is shaped by her varied cultural experience across the Mother City, which comes across tangibly in her presentation as a DJ.

Vol. 7 of Bubblegum Club‘s mix series

Playing classic R&B, disco and funk, K-$ is making a name for herself spinning tunes that she wished DJs would play when she started clubbing as a teenager – music on which she was reared (think Kool and the Gang and Earth, Wind & Fire). Her passion for music found outlets from a young age in her family choir, which performed at weddings and funerals, and later by teaching marimbas as a fourteen year-old before learning how to play the guitar, bass and drums. At university, her foray into rapping, producing and DJing was considered fun with friends; it was only during her postgraduate studies that it dawned on her to pursue music as a career option.
Inspired by breakout local artists that she considers her peers – Angel-Ho, Queezy and Dope Saint Jude – the limelight on Kalo’s presence in the overall Cape Town and global scene, as a coloured, queer performer is valuable in and of itself. Her affiliation with the 021-Lit collective speaks to a desire to dispel the predominance of exclusionary, pervasive whiteness in the city’s nightlife, but it’s her specific choice in music as a DJ that reaps an interesting dual-reward.

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K-$ creates something of a sonic safe space for brown people in her audience by playing music that they probably grew up listening to at home. The inherent groove-worthiness of these songs, correctly curated, sets off a dance floor sans complication, while simultaneously recalling fond memories for people who share a common cultural upbringing. Others in the crowd are handed infinitely danceable numbers about love and friendship, and a concurrent musical education one won’t find elsewhere in a hurry, or as Kalo herself put it, “an idea of what our house-parties were like”. And she’s taking her game up a notch for CTEMF: while planning to throw out some commercial R&B and funk classics – “Gotta have that Dennis Edwards” – she also plans on dishing out some serious knowledge unto to the crowd with rarer numbers that even her parents’ generation wouldn’t be familiar with. But her esoteric musical knowledge aside, in a highly competitive market Kalo understands that nobody’s going to knock on her door and ‘discover’ her for her merits.
She swears by good marketing practice and philosophises accordingly: “Here I am. In your face. I’m gonna put myself out there. Either you fuck with me or you don’t.”

Catch K-$ at CTEMF 2017, taking place at Cape Town’s City Hall 10-12 Feb, with soon-to-be-confirmed workshops taking place in the week before, 7-10 Feb. Tickets here.

Keep up to date with DJ mixes on K-$’ soundcloud, and her flames on Facebook, Twitter and Insta.


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