Millisuthando Bala , fondly known to her followers as DJ Milli Bala, has her roots deeply entrenched in her ethnic Xhosa tradition.
She’s one of only a handful of female DJs in the Western Cape and, come Sunday, she’ll be spinning the decks at the closing session of the Khayelitsha Arts and Culture Festival at the Rands Cape Town.
Bala’s promising some ultracool, ultra-laidback deep house music to get the crowd to chill and unwind after a full weekend of hyped-up activity.
The bright young star was born in Khayelitsha 32 years ago and, after spending her childhood in Qumbu in the Eastern Cape, she returned to her hood and has never looked back.
Bala says she wasn’t always a spin doctor: “I used to go clubbing a lot when I was working in the corporate world, but it got to the point where I was enjoying the music so much that I was not getting enough sleep and not enjoying my work as much as my music. I decided to combine the two and take the plunge; it seems to have paid off.”
She has been described as having a “rich and worldly” personality, combining the best of her urban and rural backgrounds, a woman whom her peers refer to as “possessing an incredible knack for music modulating”, and has been resident DJ assigned to modulate mixes for Metro FMs biggest weekend vibe show Dance Culture.
Bala says her DJing career spans more than eight years. Back in 2010 she signed with the Mo’ Fire Music record label and since then, she’s released her 10-track debut album, House Maepa.
She’s shared the stage and decks with the likes of some of South Africa’s most influential musicians like Black Coffee, Dino Michael, Christos, C’ndo, house music’s first lady Zinhle, Twitty, Sox, Tira and Fistaz Mixwell.
Her flair for sound mixing has seen her rock eKasi establishments like Rands Cape Town, Groover Lounge and Laroca Khayelitsha. It has been no different at upmarket urban venues such as News Café, Marimba Cape Town, House 22, Pretoria and establishments in the Vaal, aside from performing at annual showcases such as the Cape Town Jazz Festival.
She says: “Music has the ability to unleash parts of a listener’s heart. It can take one on a colourful or painful journey and sometimes it offers the listener sanctity. “Being a producer and modulator means I create sounds that can replenish souls.
"It is because of this that I remain purposeful in my art. It’s all about getting the sound right, knowing which buttons to push, which songs to play. You have to read your crowd.” Bala’s genre of cool, sophisticated music makes her more comfortable with a mature crowd upwards of 30 years.
“These are the people who are not just dancing but sitting and conversing and enjoying the music.”
She says she was approached to take part in the festival to add to the vibe, and is grateful for the opportunity. Deep House is her favourite genre. “I listen to all kinds of music but I find home in deep house.”
Speaking about breaking the mould and boundaries as far as woman DJs are concerned, Bala believes the future is bright for members of the fairer sex.
“They are finding their place. It’s not always been smooth sailing – there were some reservations and stigma about booking women in what’s traditionally a male-dominated field as the guys felt threatened. But now we’re proving ourselves and we need to be given more of a chance.” She’s excited the festival will showcase the vibrancy of the area.
“Khayelitsha is the hub of fun times and partying. Everything is happening here; more and more people are coming here – from all over South Africa, Africa and overseas. There’s a creative and a lifestyle buzz. I love living here.”
Bala wants to open her own lounge, but she never wants to stop entertaining audiences with her deft mixes and DJing. It’s what keeps her moving. Siyasanda Ntsizi, the organiser and director of the festival says the event is a wonderful platform to celebrate various cultures and give younger artists an opportunity to showcase their work.
“We want to share what we have with the world this weekend and show visitors how we live”.
He says organisers are pulling out all the stops to demonstrate that, in the face of crime, there is social cohesion and that sharing common ground in arts and culture can help people progress.
Milli Bala will be at the Sunday Rands Lifestyle Lounge – E Section, Khayelitsha on Sunday afternoon from around noon. For bookings email [email protected] gmail.com or call 076 707 2550.
She’s part of the festival that kicks off today in Khayelitsha – where a range of artists and crafters, fashion designers and performance artists will showcase the best Khayelitsha has to offer. There will also be a variety of food available. Shuttles will take visitors to the venues and back from the Lookout Hill. For more information call Siyasanga at 065 955 5318, Xolisa at 082 533 3