It’s early on a Friday morning and I’m sitting in my studio apartment in Denver, waiting for a text form across the globe. The message I’m looking for comes through and I press “call” on my phone. It takes a number of shaky rings for the call to connect, but eventually, I hear a surprisingly clear, “hello,” come through. With that, I start into conversation with South African producer/DJ Sketchy Bongo who is currently in Botswana.
Producing from a young age, Sketchy Bongo is finally seeing the fruits of his labor pay off – a recent deal with Ultra music has him sitting on the same label as some of the biggest names in dance music right now. His recent single “Let You Know” with Shekhinhah has become an international hit and everything seems to be on the up and up for the South African DJ.
It took us a few weeks of managing different time zones and my full time job to set a time to chat, but we’ve finally connected. Sketchy dives in to how he got his start, where his sound comes from and tells me about his current projects, all with an upbeat attitude. Although we’re miles and miles apart, I can tell from Sketchy’s answers just how passionate he is about what he does.
Cat: Tell me about how you initially got into producing and DJing.
Sketchy Bongo: I started producing when I was maybe 12 or 13. I actually started playing classical piano, then I was listening to a lot of hip hop and I wanted to make beats. There were a lot of rappers that wanted to get their stuff out there, so I would record them with video cameras, we didn’t really have any high tech stuff. Then we’d put things together and make tracks. Then over the years, I started to meet a lot of artists in South Africa and around the world, and I just started putting tracks together and eventually got some stuff on the radio.
Cat: Where did the name Sketchy Bongo come from?
Sketchy Bongo: The honest story is, I just put together words that had to do with creativity and music, like random words. So I just put words together and I started googling names. Nothing came up for “Sketchy Bongo,” so I chose that. So basically, it was a Google search that created my name. *he laughs*
Cat: You’re from South Africa – what does the dance music scene look like in Africa right now?
Sketchy Bongo: In South Africa, it’s house-oriented. Deep house is very big. My stuff is very pop-oriented. I’m also new age, electro oriented and hip hop oriented. There’s a lot of hip hop stuff happening right now in South Africa, but house is the main thing that’s going on. So I like to fuse both of them together to create a kind of mid-tempo sound which is clear on the track I just released called, “Let You know.” It has a tropical house, moombahton kind of vibe.
Cat: You’ve touched on this a little, but can you describe your sound in a little more detail?
Sketchy Bongo: My sound is really diverse. I don’t really have a particular sound. So I can go from mid-tempo house, which is like really chill at like 100 BPMs, to stuff that’s like hard electro, to trap stuff that’s slow and really bassy. I like to create different styles of music, I don’t like to believe in a genre. I don’t really think about it when I’m making music, I kind of just make music. I like to throw together different kinds of sounds, different influences. I grew up listening to a lot of funk music, a lot of hip hop and soul music as well, there’s an RnB influence in my music too. It’s just a melting pot of sounds really.
Cat: How would you say your South African heritage presents itself in your music?
Sketchy Bongo: It’s very prominent, especially since I listen to a lot of South African artists. I sample a lot of my fellow South African musicians and DJs. You can see it in the drum rhythms that I use. The drum rhythms that I use are often African tribal drums. I also use a lot of Indian instruments.”
Cat: Are there any musical artists that have particularly influenced you/inspired your music?
Sketchy Bongo: I’d have to say, Soweto String Quartet, Kanye West, Michael Jackson and multiple other artists from around Africa.
Cat: You often perform in a ski mask – tell me the story behind that.
Sketchy Bongo: I was working on a music video with an artist friend of mine and one of the plot lines of the video was guy in a ski mask. So I just took that and decided I’d wear it to the shoot. Then after the shoot, I decided it would be the look for Sketchy Bongo. Now, I use it as a performance technique. It’s a way to get into character. I don’t really like fame and all of that, so it’s a way to stay anonymous.
Cat: You were recently signed by Ultra Music. How did that feel?
Sketchy Bongo: So, that was crazy! I actually thought it was fake at first *he laughs*. Somebody from Ultra actually messaged me on my Facebook page. I gave them my management’s email address and they spoke to my management and it ended up actually being real. They’d heard my stuff on BBC and they really liked it, so they listened to my other stuff on Soundcloud. I was like, ‘this is amazing, people are actually listen to what I put up on Soundcloud!’ It took about three months to set the deal. It’s crazy! But it’s really good just to get the music out there.
Cat: Tell me the story behind your international hit, “Let You Know” with Shekhinhah.
Sketchy Bongo: Shekhinhah is a GREAT singer. We did a few tracks, we did one called “Back to the Future” which was good. Then we wanted to do another track and we were in the studio and we couldn’t think of any ideas. So we went down the road to this restaurant instead to have lunch. After that, she was messaging me because she doesn’t live in the same city as me and she was telling me when we could meet up again, and she kept saying “let you know” the whole time. So then the song grew from that. So we got back in the studio and I put down the chords on the piano and she started singing and it just kept building from there.
Cat: Are you working on new music now? What can you tell me about it?
Sketchy Bongo: I’m always working on new music. At the moment, I’m working with a lot of African artists. Soon I’m going to be recording with a few artists in The States, I can’t say who, but that should be really good. I just love working with a lot of different people. And since the deal with Ultra, I’ve had a lot of support and it’s opened a lot of doors to start working with other artists from different places.
Cat: Will you be touring this summer? Where can people be watching out for you?
Sketchy Bongo: Right now I’m playing a lot of shows in South Africa. At the moment, I’m in Botswana. I’m going to probably be doing some shows in the US towards the end of the year. People can always check out my Facebook page to see where I am.
Check out Sketchy Bongo’s international hit, “Let You Know,” with Shekhinhah: