There are certain maxims that are ever-present in the “underground” music scenes of South Africa. These are popular sayings amongst people who, ironically, like very unpopular things.
Two of the most frequently overheard phrases are:
(1): Not enough new and underground music is played in popular spaces and,
(2): Not enough local music is prevalent in club spaces.
Counting myself as one of these underground aficionados, I was surprised when I heard The Gobbla DJ for the first time. Playing at Great Dane in Johannesburg (an already ultra-trendy club at the time), The Gobbla proceeded to play track after track of original, underground, electronica-leaning remixes of local tracks – simultaneously blowing those two overused pieces of knowledge I had held dear to pieces.
The Gobbla has moved in leaps and strides since then, becoming a part of a small class of premier producers on South Africa’s landscape. As one of the elite, he’s given access to a world of talent beyond most artists. This idea of access to a number of sound-worlds turns out to be one of the secret sauces that has flavoured his success.
When I speak to The Gobbla years after this first encounter, he reveals a little about his beginnings. “It wasn’t until I started getting more DJ gigs that I got more access to local artists. I always wanted to do more of that type of [remix] stuff, but I never had access,” says Gobbla when asked about his approach at the time.
“When artists put out songs here, they’re very stingy with their DJ packs [which often consist of the instrumental and a-cappella mixes of a song essential to remixes].”
So when the Gobbla manoeuvred himself into spaces where he could finally interact with the people he wanted to work with, the opportunity was too valuable to let go. Even if it meant entertaining in spaces music snobs would mistakenly consider outré – the drive to collaborate with the cream of the crop was always greater.
“It started pretty much when I started playing at Cantare [a club in the Monte Casino complex] as a resident DJ every Thursday night. These guys would come in and I would literally kick down doors and say ‘one way or another, I’m getting you on my beats.’”
The Gobbla, real name Ezra, has been in Johannesburg since 2009, moving into the city from Harare to study fashion design at the Spero Villioti fashion school in Hyde Park. The love for rap production had started long before this, though.
“I started making beats was in 2004 – [Kanye West’s] College Dropout was it for me. When I heard that, I badly badly needed FL Studio.” He eventually got his hands on version 3.5 of the FL studio music production software suite, released two years earlier in 2002.
“It was installed on the family PC, and I was destroying it with all these programs. It was downstairs in the study and I was just there day and night just trying to remake all the beats I was hearing on radio, on TV and on College Dropout.”
Passion in craft, alone, doesn’t lead to much success in the world outside the art one makes. What differentiates high-achievers from others is a passion and grit away from the canvas.
“I hounded down Cassper for a year and a half. I sent him 55 beats in total from last year till around February,“ Ezra explains, talking about getting onto Cassper Nyovest’s debut album, Tsholofelo. This placement followed a string of increasingly bigger productions that The Gobbla had done, beginning with ProKid’s Snakes and Ladders album, followed by recently acquiring multiple spots on Nasty C’s Bad Hair.
The Gobbla in studio with Zimbabwean producer Brian Soko
The second part of The Gobbla’s formula was already brewing at the same time, where the world of EDM – a natural touch-point for a home-based producer – began influencing his music. “The incorporation of EDM into my rap beats started happening ’round about the time the EDM bubble started to pop a bit, which was around 2009-11.”
It’s in this arena, the world of the solo electronic artist, that Gobbla sees himself playing more in the future. “The same way that you hire a Skrillex to come play Skrillex music, that’s how you hire Gobbla to make Gobbla music.”
All of this in a time where many of his contemporaries like Tweezy, Lunatik and Gemini Major have doubled down on rap production to the point where two of the three producers mentioned have begun rapping themselves.
What all of his musical exploration has lead to, in terms of the music Ezra has put out as The Gobbla, is a menagerie of influences – from soul-sampling Kanye to the squelching synths of late ’00s EDM. His productions on both Cassper’s (‘Nyuku’, ‘Top Shayela’ & ‘Amen Hallelujah’) and Nasty’s (‘Overload’) albums stand out in their impact, atmosphere and first approaches. Each of those collaborations were the ones that made it from dozens submitted, so each is bound to be excellent.
Even with The Gobbla’s newfound success, though, the work can’t stop if it’s to be sustained.
“I’m working on my personal now,” says Gobbla of his future plans. “I have a couple of artists that I’m working with, like 2lee Stark, but for now it’s more gigging, more shows, more clubs, whatever. Anywhere I can get more gigs and get my name out there, that’s what I’m about.”