DNB Gogo has delivered a complete Amapiano project that features enough variation to keep the listener glued to their speakers for its full run-time.
In an age of Amapiano heavyweights like Kabza De Small, Kelvin Momo and DJ Maphorisa, fans of the genre are in no short supply of quality records. With Whats Real, DBN Gogo (birthname Mandisa Radebe) launches a valiant effort to join those ranks, with mostly successful results. Her debut is a polished hour-and-fifteen-minute offering that is sure to light up dance floors across South Africa.
On 25 November, the Durban-born DJ and producer dropped Whats Real after much anticipation. The hype around DBN Gogo herself has also been building; she has even been included on the Black Panther: Wakanda Forever soundtrack. Her debut is born out of some emotional self-reflection, according to the award-winning artist in an interview with Kaya FM. In the interview, she shared that before the album's production, she told her manager: "I've just been going back and forth, with what is real, how do I really feel about myself, self-doubt, what is my purpose in this whole industry in the game, everything you know." From that self-reflection, Whats Real was conceived, and one can hear that emotion pulsate throughout the album's 12 tracks.
Elements of Jazz, House and Gqom are infused into the record's sound, with individual tracks gradually building up and dissolving in the classic Amapiano style. The album features a bevy of collaborators, including Zodwa Wabantu, Makhanj, Stixx, MacG, Boohle, Zaytoven, Yumbs and many others. Yet, all these collaborators are incorporated cohesively, gelling on each track and providing constant variety. Most songs have several shining moments, highlighted by adequate mixing and slick production. Though the enjoyability of the songs may vary, a golden thread runs through them, making the album ideal for one-sit listens.
The record's lush and borderline cinematic intro, MARADEBE, sets the appropriate tone. The song is atmospheric, with passages that feel vaguely ambient. A light beat effectively informs the listener that this is, in fact, a dance album without having that element overpower the rest of the music. Though brief, it ticks all the boxes for a solid introduction.
What follows is NGEKE which starts with a familiar Amapiano beat and is gradually paired with raw but passionate vocals, mellow guitars and spacy vocal melodies. Though it may feel minimalist due to its laid-back sound, the production is stratified with various complementary elements. Each element is also given enough breathing room in the mixing to shine on its own.
UYATHANDEKA, the third song on the track list, uses synthetic strings, woodwind sounds and gentle synths to create a nocturnal atmosphere. The lyric "I want you, and you want me" is sometimes repeated to a hypnotic effect. However, what is missing on this particular track is the presence of solid melodies, noted in all the previous songs. Though still enjoyable, by the end of its run-time, something feels missing, as if the song did not quite reach a satisfying climax.
JIKA brings back soulful melodies and harmonies. This song successfully blends rapping with more lush male vocals. This is perhaps the strongest hip-hop cut on the album. There are also a few tempo changes that keep the overall song dynamic during its 7-minute run-time.
The album's second half sees a slight shift in overall style and atmosphere. The songs are less mellow and more raucous but still engaging. The stretch from POLO to KHOMBA BANI exemplifies this emphasis on darker and urban sounds. There is, unfortunately, a slight dip in quality since what the record has done well so far is combine warm and melodic instrumentals with danceable percussion. The rich instrumentals start to fizzle out on this last stretch of tracks.
Whats Real does deliver a memorable closer with the song JABULA. Pabi Cooper delivers a cool vocal performance over bouncy bass and rolling percussion. The song is an appropriate closer to an album with lots of highlights.
DNB Gogo has delivered a complete Amapiano project with enough variation to keep the listener glued to their speakers for its full run-time. Though the quality of the songs is not always consistent, the album stays comfortably above water. DNB Gogo has laid a rock-solid foundation for her future musical endeavours.
Artist: DBN Gogo
Album: Whats Real
Where to listen: All streaming platforms
Our rating: 3/5 Stars