#MyJoburg interview with Lelowhatsgood, creative trailblazer and founder of the VNJ Ball

27 Jun 2023
In our #MyJoburg series, we speak to people that add something unique to Joburg's creative mix, and get the lowdown on what enthrals them about this city. 
Creative trailblazer Lelowhatsgood. Photo: FlashedBySanele. 

Ntsikelelo ‘Lelo’ Meslani, known professionally as Lelowhatsgood, is a Joburg-based creative trailblazer set on disrupting Africa's media and entertainment industry. Meslani describes himself as a young, unapologetically queer creative, and he is fast becoming a maverick who is redefining South African queer culture. 

As a DJ, he is behind the representation and increased visibility of queer creatives in the entertainment industry in Johannesburg – playing on international stages such as Boiler Room (2019, 2022) and AFROPUNK in 2019. As an events curator and writer, he is the driving force behind the queer-focused event VNJ Ball and a senior editor of Faculty Press – an annual magazine produced by designer Thebe Magugu. His work breaks down societal stereotypes, generalisations and misconceptions that surround queer culture in South Africa. Having watched his star continue to rise, we were curious to find out more about Lelowhatsgood. Here's what you need to know. 

"I started VNJ with the mission to create safer spaces for nightlife that are inclusive and progressive in the music, culture and expression that's often discarded in many mainstream spaces within the city."

Tell us about your journey as a DJ in Johannesburg. How did you get started?
My career started with DJ'ing at a friend's party in downtown Johannesburg, and quickly transferred to doing workshops with P_ssy Party at their weekly events at Kitcheners in 2017 and 2018. I then started to get bookings from different promoters in the city and worked as a full-time DJ and events promoter as well.

How has the city's music scene influenced your style and sound?
The city has different sounds from all over the world; as a melting pot of culture it soon influenced my sound. Coming from Durban and also representing the queer scene, I wanted that to reflect in the sets I do.
Lelowhatsgood at Ultra Johannesburg 2023. Photo: @dat_guy_tee

"I'm passionate about young, inclusive spaces that also centre different music genres and a diverse line-up."

What inspired you to start Vogue Nights in Joburg (now known as the VNJ Ball), and what sets it apart from other nightlife experiences in Johannesburg?
The inspiration came from the Ballroom Scene [an African-American and Latino underground LGBTQ+ subculture that originated in New York City in the 1970s] and I wanted to do something that reflects the colourful and vibrant community in Johannesburg and across South Africa. I started VNJ with the mission to create safer spaces for nightlife that are inclusive and progressive in the music, culture and expression that's often discarded in many mainstream spaces within the city.

Why the rebrand of Vogue Nights in Joburg to VNJ Ball? 
The rebrand came from not limiting the ball to just Johannesburg. I could see the balls taking place across the country and even globally. We still wanted to keep the original name because of the work we've already built and opted to abbreviate it, while adding "Ball" to make the stance clear on our mission to push ballroom culture.
VNJ Ball: Renaissance Edition 2022. Photo: Mihlali Jiya. 

Joburg is known for its diverse range of venues. Can you share some of your favourite spots to perform as a DJ in the city?
There are many, but I love Hallmark House because of the Joburg skyline, and any place in Braam such as Kitchener's as it's an institution for DJ performances, as well as Shine Studios [also in Braamfontein]. 

What influences the types of events you play at, attend or support?
Usually it's about what the event is focused on. I'm passionate about young, inclusive spaces that also centre different music genres and a diverse line-up.

As an event organiser, what challenges do you face when curating VNJ Ball? 
I always put safety first. Especially because I cater to a marginalised community... although we haven't had any issues yet, that's always top of mind.

Vogue Nights welcomes all – how do you ensure that the event remains inclusive and welcoming to everyone who attends? 
We always remind people when promoting the event that the space is open for everyone, but those who are not part of the community need to remember why they're there and be mindful of others without taking up space. Treating others with respect, kindness and openness is also key.

How do you stay up-to-date with the latest trends and ensure that your DJ sets and events are fresh and relevant?
I'm always watching sets from other DJs across the world on YouTube. I attend other events to watch DJs who inspire me and I always keep an open mind when curating different sounds. My sets are always fluid and diverse, and it's an opportunity to show people your range.
Lelowhatsgood for MINI South Africa #ElectricCollective, 2022. Photo: MINI South Africa. 

How would you describe the music you include in your sets versus the music you create?
I always play music that's fun to dance to – classics – and always include something new. The music that I make is very different; it's more dark [and] dynamic from what's out there. I try to create a new lane and challenge the listener.

How do you navigate the cultural sphere to ensure you're always in the loop?
If it's aligned [with] my interest then that's what I'll attend.

What advice do you have for aspiring DJs and event organisers who are looking to make their mark on Johannesburg's dynamic creative scene?
Keep your finger on the pulse and always remain true to what you're about. No one can take your essence so always be yourself in whatever you want to do.
VNJ Ball 2022 Winter Ball. Photo: Les.

What will make the upcoming VNJ Ball different from others that have been held before? 
This upcoming one will remind people of why a space like VNJ exists. We want to keep to our event remaining a true underground space for creativity and expression. It'll be one for the books!

You always seem to know where the hottest and newest spots are. Tell us about your three recent favourites.  
Opera [a trendy bar-lounge in Rosebank], Mexican eatery Loco [in Braamfonrtein] and Acid Food & Wine Bar [in Parktown]. 

One person to watch in this city, who is destined for great things? 
[Creater and musician] Kamo WW. 
Kamohelo "Kamo WW" Pule. Photo: Katlego Mokubyane. 

Home is...
Where you're most yourself and where you feel safe.

Your favourite Joburg suburb, and why you choose it?
Anywhere in the Parks – it's easy to travel around and everything is there.

What three things should a visitor not leave Joburg without seeing or experiencing?
The Royale [Cuban-themed restaurant-bar in Craighall Park], VNJ BALL and one of the clubs in Joburg.

What’s the one thing no one would expect to hear about Joburg?
That you can make friends for life.
Thebe Magugu Autumn/Winter 2021. Photo: Kristin Lee Moolman.

The most underrated Joburg sight or experience?
The Wilds in Houghton.

The most memorable meal you have eaten in Joburg?
A platter from Kwa Mai Mai market.  
Small - From the grill at Kwa Mai Mai. Photo by Nkayiso Shabalala for Honest Travel Experience​
Lunch at Kwa Mai Mai market, a city-centre institution. Photo: Nkayiso Shabalala for Honest Travel Experience​.

If you could buy one Joburg building what would it be?
The Old Johannesburg Stock Exchange [on the corner of Pritchard and Diagonal streets].

Favourite Joburg brand, and why?
Thebe Magugu. It's just iconic.

On a weekend in Joburg you’ll find me...
At one of your favourite parties!

What makes someone a Joburger?
Their taste in music.

What do you love most about Joburg?
The skylines of the CBD.
The gorgeous Johannesburg CBD skyline at night. Photo: Mark Straw. 

What do you least like about Joburg?
How unwalkable most places are.

Your number-one tip for a first-time visitor to Joburg?
Always greet nicely before asking something.

What's happening in Joburg right now that you think everyone should know about?
The fashion and art scene is where it's at.

Three words that describe this city
Diverse, surprising and fun. 

Check out some of our previous #MyJoburg interviews for more insights into the city:

#MyJoburg with Adam Benefeld, drag performer 
#MyJoburg with Charles Leonard, DJ and host of 'This is Joburg' podcast
#MyJoburg with Sara Hallat, founder of OpenStudios.Joburg

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