Music is a form of the freedom of expression in its purest form and DJ K Dollahz embodies that.
I first came across the DJ and producer in the making, Kalo Canterbury, better known as K Dollahz on Twitter about a year ago. I was intrigued by his story as a transitioning transgender DJ in South Africa; living his truth openly, freely and informatively. If you are unfortunate enough to still not have heard a set or curated playlist by K Dollahz, you have to be living under a rock. He is making waves on the South African event scene, mesmerising people with his cool and funky dance sets.
“Now that I’ve taken ownership of my identity, I want to own every part of that! It’s me, it’s my legacy, it’s my identity. It’s all I have to show the world.” – K Dollahz
K Dollahz has always been destined for a life in music, starting in high school where he was a part of the school’s jazz band playing bass which he self-taught. He moved on to spinning on the decks at 2 BOP store events in Cape Town where he worked during his university years, to now playing at all the hottest parties and events including the South African leg of The Boiler Room Sessions.
“I knew I’d always do something in music. While in university I experimented with trying to rap, trying to produce and making music in general. Then eventually playing at my friends parties like Early Friday, which was to raise funds for the grad show at UCT. Finally, I thought to myself, ‘If I put in the time into this, I could actually be good at it’ because I knew my music selection was on point and my music knowledge was on point. I knew I had a sound I wanted to deliver. So, I bought a controller and taught myself to dj and started from there,” he said reminiscing on his journey. “I didn’t know I was always going to be a dj but it was written for me and it’s not the be all and end all of what I’m going to do in music,” he added with conviction.
K Dollahz recently moved to Johannesburg as a way to push his own boundaries in taking his skill and brand to the next level. “I’m incredibly lucky to be surrounded by super talented musicians that I get to call friends. They set the standard pretty high but it’s cool because I get to learn from them. I’m also studying production.”
“It’s important for young people like us [people of color and queer people] to own our own things. Learning to mix and master, to have full control of your own sound – We’ve seen in history what can go horribly wrong when someone else owns your stuff. It’s important to own my work and oversee that process. Now that I’ve taken ownership of my identity, I want to own every part of that! It’s me, it’s my legacy, it’s my identity. It’s all I have to show the world.”
K Dollahz has been public and open about his transition as a transgender male and said the journey has been one filled with many highs and lows and an ongoing battle and challenge fighting for his freedom in all spaces of society – especially being in the music industry in South Africa, which is still largely dominated by men.
“Because I have been so public about my transition, it obviously invites criticism. It’s something I’m still dealing with. It’s a continuous process, search for myself and my identity. In the music industry, people try to undermine you because they see you as a threat; because the gatekeepers of the industry are men, they are threatened because you’re this masculine person that self identifies as a man from a different angle and doesn’t have the boys club interest at heart. I don’t have time to sommer beg anyone. I’ve been treated like shit in this industry because of my transgender identity, like the incident at Afro-Punk [that is about no transphobia] where I was misgendered on stage. I have been on testosterone for a year but transitioning socially for longer than that. It’s been a hell of a journey so far! I still have a long way to go. I’m still dealing with change. If I look back a year ago, there has been so much change. The way I’ve changed is crazy. Not being aware of trans-identity during my teen years, I blocked it out and can’t remember it [the teen years] because I didn’t identify with it. I’m going through puberty now [a rebirth].”
On the topic of representation in the local music scene, especially when it comes to the LGBTIQ+ community who are often left out and marginalised from opportunities and securing the bag, the dj said that it is still too far from where it needs to be, everyone needs to do better and step up. K Dollahz emphasised the need for urgent action to change the current status quo, saying it’s not enough for people (event organisers) to put queer, black and brown people on stage and pat themselves on the back for being so-called inclusive and unproblematic.
“Stages across the country are not inclusive and that needs to change. It’s easy to shut the door on queer people even when we work just as hard, if not harder to get recognised. There are a lot of people in the industry that are black, brown, queer that aren’t abiding by the rules set by people in power before us and breaking down stereotypes. It’s very challenging and can cause emotional trauma but you just have to believe that what you’re fighting for is going to be rewarding. Let us call the shots. You want to create a space for us then let us be of it. You can’t expect someone who has no understanding or concept of the community from an insider’s perspective, where we are meant to feel safe and happy to execute that properly. It’s got to come from us. People need to step up when it comes to queer, black and femme people,” he said.
K Dollahz attributes his tenacity, humbleness, focus and love for life to his amazing childhood, family and teachings that he grew up with. “I had an opportunity to play, explore my creativity and be disciplined. I was always surrounded by music and the morals and values I grew up with are still with me, informing the person I am today. I was always told that ‘whatever you do, enjoy it and do the best you can. Don’t half-ass, do it properly,'” a clear root to the way he manoeuvres the industry, shaking it up as he goes.
K Dollahz promised that once he has settled into Joburg, we will definitely be seeing him on some cool stages and him giving back to the LGBTIQ+ community. “I want to travel to broaden my horizon and awareness of the world. I want to get more involved in putting other queer artists on. Hopefully, master making music and drop at least one track by the end of the year. I’m bringing a new kind of greatness of myself. I don’t want to limit myself, so you can expect a lot,” he said.
After spending almost two hours with K Dollahz shooting, his passion and love for music and what he does is evident and palpable. It is easy to understand why music chose him.
Photography: Kayleen Morgan
Styling & Interview: Nomvelo Chalumbira
Make-up: Palesa Mkhwananzi Artistry