/ 10 February 2024

My name is DJ Zinhle  …

Dj Zinhle (1)
Great track record: DJ Zinhle has forged a unique identity for herself in the male-dominated industry over the past two decades and has helped to give other women a leg up.

Twenty years as a DJ in a fickle industry is something to celebrate, especially if you are not only very much at the top but still rising. 

And DJ Zinhle is not only thriving behind the decks but juggles numerous entrepreneurial ventures, from her stylish accessory line, Era By DJ Zinhle, to her chic salon, Hair Majesty By DJ Zinhle, and her role as CEO of Boulevard Nectar Rosé, a sparkling wine.

But her biggest and most important job is being a devoted mom to Kairo Forbes and Asanti Mohosana. 

It’s not always easy, which explains why we finally settled for an email interview. 

The whole family has been affected by the death of Kairo’s father, Kiernan “AKA” Forbes, especially in the lead-up to what would have been his 38th birthday on 28 January. 

The popular rapper was gunned down in Durban almost a year ago.

Despite the challenging times, DJ Zinhle is generous with her replies. 

Born Ntombezinhle Jiyane, she hails from Dannhauser, KwaZulu-Natal, but her journey has taken her far beyond her tiny hometown. 

“My brother Zakhele was a house DJ back in the day and he introduced me to the craft,” DJ Zinhle reminisces. “I used to go with him to his gigs and just watch DJs play. 

“The one thing I picked up on was that there were very few females. That was my gap [to take].”

In 2002, she enrolled at the University of Johannesburg to study marketing. This would play a pivotal role in shaping the way she would brand herself as both a DJ and an aspiring entrepreneur, combining her marketing knowledge with her love of music. “That’s the crazy thing!” DJ Zinhle exclaims. “I initially wanted to be a TV presenter. God had other plans for me and I am so grateful because I love what I do so much.” 

Armed with determination and a desire to break barriers, she honed her DJing skills and carved out a  unique identity in the industry.

DJ Zinhle humorously admits, “It’s been 20 years — and I couldn’t tell you what songs I played when I first stepped into the DJ booth!”

She generously imparts some of the valuable lessons gleaned from her early DJing days. 

“Each gig has its unique dynamics,” she explains. “For me, it’s always about understanding the crowd, the duration of the event and what tunes have set the stage before my performance. 

“Being one of the few females, coupled with the skills I had acquired, certainly elicited quite a reaction from the audience.”

Throughout her career, DJ Zinhle has dedicated herself to empowering women in the male-dominated field of DJing. In 2009, she helped establish a school called Fuse which  provides a haven for young women aspiring to master the craft.

During that year, she dropped a track titled Pepe which, remarkably, despite lacking lyrics, managed to evoke a profound emotional response in everyone who heard it. 

A pivotal year in her career was 2012, when she released the single that would become synonymous with her identity — My Name Is, featuring Busiswa. DJ Zinhle and DJ Maphorisa did the backing vocals to the track. 

In our interview, DJ Zinhle says that, more than a decade later, My Name Is continues to be a powerhouse, lighting up dance floors whenever she plays it. 

So, what else from her extensive catalogue gets the crowds rocking? Colours, featuring Tamara Dey, and Umlilo, featuring Rethabile and Mvzzle, she says.

An essential aspect of DJ Zinhle’s artistic endeavours is her dedication to featuring women prominently. 

“As someone who has always been big on growing our industry for females, it’s nice to see more and more females dominate the space. The girlies are up!”

In her early DJing, she had challenges that many newbies today would not encounter. But she believes it helped build character and a strong back.

“For example, we didn’t have social media to speak directly to our audience. Growing a fanbase was purely off gigs and traditional media. I also had to lug a big case of vinyls around wherever I went. So, there’s that.” 

Probably because of the time she spent at the DJ school of hard knocks, DJ Zinhle doesn’t make the demands many stars do. As an old-school pro, she understands every gig is essentially a day at the office. 

“I’m not too big on snacks, especially at work, however, when it comes to my drink of choice right now, it has to be a Rémy Martin cocktail. Also, sparkling water.” 

And away from the decks, she has the other businesses to take care of. 

“Look, I think nothing in this life is easy but building businesses over the years has shown me the high highs and low lows of being an entrepreneur. It’s all worth the lessons which you will need to succeed at the end of the day, though. 

“Just like anything in life, nothing is guaranteed to us so, for me, it was important to make sure that, if I fail in something, I will succeed in something else,” she says.

But she still loves getting the floor pumping. “After 20 years, I’d say my mixing is quite good too … There are so many great moments that have happened through my 20 years in this industry.”

She’s not going to be hanging up the headphones anytime soon. 

“Those great moments are still unfolding,” DJ Zinhle says. 

“I am excited to be playing the main stage at Ultra Music Festival this year. That’s huge!”