Like every great brand out there, the DJ Fresh brand took on a life of its own from the beginning. When he started, it wasn’t even set up as a brand building exercise because branding wasn’t a thing for deejays at the time.
“My career really took off when I started at YFM and it built on from there. That’s when it became a deliberate focus on the brand, and what it stands for. I’ve always hoped that people see my brand as one that’s accessible, dependable, that cares and one that hopes to inspire,” he explains.
DJ Fresh, whose real name is Thato Sikwane, adds that he always tries to make sure that the brand adds value to someone’s life and helps with people’s personal growth.
From passion to portfolio
DJ Fresh’s interest in music began early on in his life; he started collecting music in Grade 2. When he got a chance to play at a high school function, that’s when he really got behind the turntables.
“Back in Botswana, you were forced to do national service after you completed high school. So for that year I was a teacher who taught mathematics and Setswana, but the DJing career actually started right after high school where I was already getting paid,” Sikwane says.
“Between everything else that was happening, I got accepted into law school, but quickly realised that I was more interested in music than I was in attending lectures.”
In his varsity days, Sikwane would steal his father’s car, pack it full of his friends and cross the border from Botswana to South Africa to go to a gig where DJ Christo was playing. He didn’t even have a driver’s license at the time.
“It’s weird how my passion was so intense that I made sure that I was friends with all the guys I looked up to at the time. From DJ Oskido to DJ Christo or Vinny Da Vinci,” he recalls.
First break in the industry
The head of entertainment at Sikwane’s old high school, Tebogo Naledi, was the person who actually introduced him to DJing, as he knew Fresh had a huge cassette collection.
Record label owner and businessman Oscar ‘Oskido’ Mdlongwa believed in and mentored Sikwane. After the two met, Oskido went out of his way to support him by sending music in a taxi from Johannesburg to Gaborone, Botswana.
The trick to staying relevant in the music and entertainment industry is to never let your new found fame go to your head, advises Sikwane.
“The key to longevity in this industry is to never let your passion burn so hot that you think that you’re invincible or better than others,” he says. “Remaining the same person that you were at the beginning of it all goes a long way for your brand equity.”
The Fresh Breakfast Show
The Metro FM radio personality hosts the Fresh Breakfast Show, which he co-hosts with Somizi Mhlongo, Mpho Letholonyane and Angie Khumalo. What gives the show its edge are the different people who host it, each of whom is opinionated and not afraid to share their views.
“I feel like it is important that we do radio with a purpose, not radio for the sake of entertainment. Radio should affect people’s lives positively, it should inspire people to think differently and give you hope,” says Sikwane.
“On our show we often share our own personal stories because relatability is everything. People are more loyal to a voice that they can relate to rather than one they can’t.”
Sikwane prefers to share the microphone and feed off different personalities and is not one to hog the spotlight. He feels a sense of responsibility to open doors for others who want a career in entertainment.
Adapting to social media
Sikwane managed to build the DJ Fresh brand without the help of social media, coming from an era where it didn’t even exist. But his inquisitive nature made it easy for him to embrace it.
“I’ve always been a techie and growing up, I was that person who would dismantle a small radio just to see how it works. I’m surprised I didn’t pursue a career in engineering or IT, so the transition into social media was easy for me,” he explains.
He tends to stay away from posting images of his family, what he drives or where he lives.
“I think social media has become this new frontier of marketing yourself. More important for me than the marketing is being in touch with the people because it is so immediate.
“Social media is almost like a massive live chatroom and one of the greatest gifts to radio content, if you use it correctly. It’s important not to let it be your crutch. It’s an extra gear so don’t turn it into the gearbox, don’t let it be what drives your content or show,” he adds.
The lack of investing and saving
It’s in our nature not to worry about the future when things are great at present, especially for celebrities when gigs and endorsements are coming in from all directions and money is no worry.
“Investing and saving is definitely one thing that’s lacking in our industry. Some people may argue that, how can they save if there not earning much. But my attitude towards that is, you teach yourself money discipline,” he comments.
Being in the media is a privilege in itself so you have no excuse to not do other things on the side, he says. People should turn their respective positions in the media into other opportunities.
Not one to sit on his laurels, Sikwane is currently pitching some TV shows that are pending channel approval. He also owns the Sausage Saloon franchise and is a partner in the Oh Ship franchise, a three day cruise from Durban to the Portuguese islands.
If you need advice on how to stay away from the many distractions of life, check out this video:
DStv Delicious Food and Music Festival
The house music pioneer will be one of the many acts at the DStv Delicious Food and Music Festival. He’ll be blazing killer tunes on the Vodacom dance arena. The event is set to take place from 22-23 September at the Kyalami Grand Prix Circuit.
Reabetswe Rabaji is a journalism intern working at Wag the Dog. He is currently studying PR and Communication Management at the University of Johannesburg.
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