DJ Cleo is one of the most significant and successful creators of bass-heavy trickery in the southern hemisphere, with a colourful approach to beat-making that incorporates diverse sources and influences. Despite this eclecticism, Cleo manages to maintain a pretty distinctive sound – one that causes bassbins to vibrate heavily.
The trademark Cleo sound (also apparent on his productions for the likes of Brickz, Mandoza and even hip-hop act Skwatta Kamp) has landed him a lot of accolades and awards in South Africa, and it’s also piqued the interest of tastemakers overseas.
Diplo caught the Cleo bug during a DJing tour of the country a couple of years ago, and his Mad Decent blog later labeled him the “King Of Kwaito”. Since then Cleo has been churning out material with even bigger bottom end, and it’s appealing to the sensibilities of international bass-heads like Generation Bass’ own UMB, who included Cleo on his most recent Trackfest; Steak House’s Hanuman, who featured Cleo on a DJ Mag Podcast we pointed out last week; and DJs like London’s Night Slugs crew and Dubbel Dutch. Cleo has also had props from Germany’s Out Here label, who included him on their excellent Ayobaness comp; and The Fader mag, who ran a thorough interview with him last year.
Also amongst the Cleo converts are Radioclit and Malawian singer Esau Mwamwaya, who, under the guise of The Very Best, put a fabulous free mixtape out in 2008 that featured their reworkings of world music-leaning cuts by the likes of Vampire Weekend, M.I.A. and – you guessed it – DJ Cleo.
DJ Cleo has just released his latest full-length, titled Es’khaleni Vol. 7, and as well as containing the ubiquitous sound of the vuvuzela it features collaborations with local lights like Suede, Oskido from Brothers Of Peace and his closest cohort, Bleksem. While the album is patchy in places, tracks like “Lalela Lengoma”, “Try And Love Me” and the remix of “Aaaiiiyyy” mesh brutal basslines with distinctly South African sounds and work a treat.
Unfortunately Cleo’s not that keen on giving tracks away so I suggest you actually buy them! As a primer I’ve located a comprehensive Cleo playlist on last.fm that’s well worth streaming, and I found a few older downloadable tracks elsewhere.
They are below, along with links to tunes by Bleksem and Cleo’s prodigy, DJ What What, plus a link to The Very Best mixtape (their version of Cleo’s “Wena Ng’hamba Nawe” is a carbon-copy of the original, with the addition of some vocals sung in Chichewa).
Do I need to mention that it has a massive bassline?