Lepara la Pitori: Remembering DJ Sumbody

21 November 2022 - 11:13 By Setumo-Thebe Mohlomi
subscribe Just R20 for the first month. Support independent journalism by subscribing to our digital news package.
Subscribe now
DJ Sumbody at the 25th annual South African Music Awards on June 1 2019 at Sun City in Rustenburg, North West. File photo.
DJ Sumbody at the 25th annual South African Music Awards on June 1 2019 at Sun City in Rustenburg, North West. File photo.
Image: Gallo Images/Frennie Shivambu

Recording artist and DJ, events promoter and restaurant proprietor, label executive and culture icon: DJ Sumbody won over the hearts of South Africans with his incredible talent.

The star, real name Oupa John Sefoka, was reportedly gunned down at the weekend, with details surrounding his death still under investigation. Police spokesperson Col Mavela Masondo said police received a complaint about a shooting incident at the corner of Woodmead Drive and Woodland Drive in Sandton at about 12.30am on Sunday.

Sumbody will be remembered similarly in business and in music: as an unrelenting trailblazer who, even when the destination often seemed unreachable and the path unclear, made his way against many odds.

Sefoka began his career in transport, working in the taxi industry as a queue marshal, then driving his father’s taxis part-time to finance his burgeoning music career. He would save enough money to buy vinyl records from Exquisite Joint, a record shop owned by renowned South African DJ and broadcaster Glen Lewis, and play at birthday parties, pubs, weddings and wherever else he could.

The possibility of a sustainable career in music presented itself to Sumbody when he bought his first PA system. “So now when they want to book you, you’re a package and you’re guaranteed bookings because when they take your sound, you’re there. It started off there. I started hustling these alcohol companies for me to supply sound systems whenever they’ve got gigs,” he said in a 2019 interview.

Sumbody built a name for himself in Pitori, the greater Pretoria region including townships and suburbs on the outskirts of the city. He harnessed the power of broadcast radio before streaming was an option, starting with a feature and then a stand-alone show on Tshwane University of Technology’s TUT FM.

His earnest foray into promoting began in 2007 with the Mental Shutdown event, which hosted upwards of 3,000 students from TUT and other institutions at the Pretoria Showgrounds. It became a yearly feature on the social calendar.

As a producer, Sumbody had two early releases, Larger Than House and Larger than House Vol 2, released in 2012 and 2013 respectively. At the time, gqom pulsated from KwaZulu-Natal across the country and the world with its upbeat DIY beats and epicurean lyrics and catchphrases.

When gqom artists would repeat the phrase “wololo” and audiences would echo the slogan, Sumbody would respond with “ayepyep”. This became a catchphrase that was synonymous with Pitori nightlife and something of a trademark for him as an artist.

Before hosting the first iteration of the Sunnyside Block Beach Party in 2014, sponsorships from SAB and Pernod Ricard fell through at the 11th hour and Sumbody was faced with either cancelling the event or using a shoestring budget of R30,000 to host the show. The event went ahead, successfully merging four venues, one of them being Café del Khuze in Sunnyside, and featuring two dance floors.

When the opportunity presented itself for him to buy the Café del Khuze venue with his business partner Kagiso Setsetse, it was a no-brainer. They renamed it Ayepyep Lifestyle Lounge.

Sumbody’s major break as a recording artist also carried the famous catchphrase. Ayepyep — a song featuring Durban gqom doyen DJ Tira, Pitori kwaito pioneer Thebe and Emza — was released in August 2017 and arguably owed its hit status to “Showing people what happens when 012 [Pitori] meets Durban”, as Sumbody ad libs in the song’s opening bars.

By 2018, Sumbody was featuring on songs with Cassper Nyovest. The popular rapper had at the time developed an appetite for amapiano. They would release the hit songs Monate Mpolaye and Remote Control.

“We’re bringing kwaito back,” Sumbody said. “It’s got a kwaito feel, the music that I do.”

As amapiano gained momentum, becoming a mainstream sound in Mzansi as well as a global export, Sony Music Entertainment Africa partnered with Sumbody’s Sumsounds Productions. This enabled Sumbody to develop artists like The Lowkeys, Snow Deep and Madam MC, and provided more robust music business machinery to facilitate the careers of established acts like himself and Junior Taurus.

Scores of South Africans would know Sefoka as recording artist DJ Sumbody, a musician whose hit songs Ayepyep and Monate Mpolaye reverberated across dance floors and are the soundtracks to fond memories for them.

To a smaller group of patrons at his affluent Ayepyep Lifestyle Lounges in Pitori and Cape Town, DJ Sumbody created spaces and experiences that were simultaneously luxurious and rooted in the authentic aspirations held by their creator — a businessman who had township roots and whose dreams were perpetually beyond the horizon.

The artists and industry executives he worked with through his Sumsounds Music label will remember a passionate and savvy Sumbody, whose work helped put Pitori at the centre of conversations about amapiano locally and globally.

Sumbody was striking because the delicate balancing act of fulfilling all these roles would rarely teeter or fall — he somehow managed to pull it off with effortless grace.

Setumo-Thebe Mohlomi is a writer, photographer and expert on the nexus of culture, business and socio-politics.​

subscribe Just R20 for the first month. Support independent journalism by subscribing to our digital news package.
Subscribe now

Would you like to comment on this article?
Sign up (it's quick and free) or sign in now.

Speech Bubbles

Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.