Known fondly as “the duo that never disappoints,” Mellow & Sleazy first piqued South Africa’s interest in 2020, but saw their careers erupt toward the mainstream with the release of the platinum-streaming 'Bopha' alongside DJ Maphorisa and Young Stunna in late 2021, which dominated on charts for weeks on end. The release of 'Nkao Tempela' with Ch’cco in summer 2022 had the same impact, propelling them – along with their proudly South African Bacardi-driven sound – toward star-status.
The more recently released track 'Abo Mvelo' with Daliwonga introduced many new fans in the US to amapiano for the first time, and the viral song 'Bheba Bheba' saw the duo continuing to dominate scenes and screens. Bacardi house saw its peak in 2008 as DJ Mujava and the late DJ Spoko brought the sound to new shores with 'Township Funk'; however Mellow & Sleazy continue to spearhead the sound’s renaissance, putting their own spin on the tinny, jangly sonics wrapped in amapiano’s Kwaito-and-jazz infused reverberations.
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Today they explore Angolan and Nigerian influences with that Bacardi spirit for a more “ancestral” sound in their aptly dubbed 'Midnight in Sunnyside' albums, emblematic of the neighbourhood where many African nationals live shoulder to shoulder in amapiano’s epicentre of Pretoria.
With a crop of golden hair, Olebogeng “Sleazy” Kwanaite is the more gregarious of the two, while the lanky Phemelo “Mellow” Sefanyetse lives up to his name with a laid back attitude. However the duo are unwavering in striking creative and personal balance behind the decks as well as in studio, as we saw during their earth-shattering set at Primavera Sound. They play with an ease that can only come from a shared understanding of each other’s innate strengths – and of the way their music can alter atmospheres and captivate crowds wherever they go.
In this exclusive session, we get to know Mellow & Sleazy a little better through an hour-long mix of their own unreleased productions.
Tell us about the day music found you, and the day you found each other; how did you know your energies were right?
Sleazy: I was in grade 7 and we had a school dance. In high school sometimes we would have to do “talent shows” or showcases, and my teacher wanted me to dance to Katy Perry’s 'Roar', which I didn’t wanna do, so we came to a compromise – and she said “if you wanna dance to something else, make a remix to it!” There was a guy in my class who knew how to use Fruity Loops, so he showed me. So that day I went home and made the remix. That’s my earliest memory of production. Mellow and I eventually met in res[idence] at Uni.
Mellow: Yeah, in university, I used to go to Sleazy’s room and fetch [stems] from him, then go back to my room and play around with them. Eventually we got into a flow and started producing together. As for energy, Mellow… is mellow, more chilled and calm. I’m more quiet but lover of a vibe you know?
Sleazy: I was looking for some things (I don’t remember exactly what) and I bumped into Mellow. We got along and started hanging out, and really just became friends from there. It really just happened organically, we started hanging out and just vibed together. I’m also chilled, I like being around my crew and friends but I love being in the studio too, anything music centred really.
Since then, how has making music together changed your life?
Sleazy: At the core, not much; only because music has always been such an integral part of our journeys… but it’s obviously brought on a lot of recognition and fame. More people here in South Africa and around the world now know us. It’s been a blessing to be able to make and share the art that we love, and being able to make a career out of it has been amazing.
How has travelling around Europe and the UK been? What have you learnt about the new audiences you play to and the way they receive your music?
Sleazy: Travelling has been awesome, my favourite place in Europe is Spain; I think it’s a beautiful country with beautiful scenery and spaces. What we’ve learnt about audiences is that a crowd is a crowd, wherever you go in the world. They’ll listen to what you play for them!
Tell us a bit about the influence Bacardi has had on you. When did you first hear the music, where, which artists were your favourite, and why?
Sleazy: I started listening to Bacardi when I was living in Soshanguve around when I was 13-years-old. Right in front of my house, there was a shebeen that always used to play Bacardi. I also had a neighbour that would play it really loudly, so that’s the first time I heard it. He used to play it from when he woke up until late, so it was always playing in the background!
Mellow: It’s really the signature sound of Pretoria, so it’s the same for me, it was always playing around us at home, or when we’d go out, in the shops around etc… Some of our favourite Bacardi artists are Dadaman and Vusi Ma R5. Rekere is another name for Bacardi. There’s Bacardi, Kota, Rekere… We’re really just pushing 'piano and Bacardi, and our sound stems from Pretoria which is our hometown, you know? We make and create music that speaks to the people back home, but also taking the global influences of music and putting it into our production and collaborations.
We’ve been able to produce music that is considered commercial, a lot of our music goes viral on TikTok because we love experimenting and having our fans receive it in real time. We go live a lot while we’re in studio because we love the input our fans have on our music. That’s really all that we ever want to convey, good music that people can vibe to.
Tell us a bit about [the first] 'Midnight in Sunnyside'. How is the new project different from the first one?
Mellow: 'Midnight in Sunnyside' was more beat-focused, so rarely any vocals. Purely Bacardi. The biggest song out of that project was obviously 'Chipi ke Chipi' with Justin 99, it really summarises the theme and flow of the album. Whilst 'Midnight in Sunnyside 2' incorporates more genres, so we’ve got some melodies and singers on there.
Sleazy: 'Midnight in Sunnyside 2' has more of everything, Bacardi and soulful. My favourite tracks are 'Vin Diesel', 'Thesha' and 'Alibongwe' -- we usually only work with people that we gel with creatively, like our friends and fellow Bacardi artists Tman Xpress, Chley, Sjavasdadeejay, DJ Maphorisa and more, everyone we worked with on the album we’re really close with and love to collaborate with.
Talk to us about the music from Benin (and possibly other countries) that we can see in some of your social media. What do you enjoy about these African sounds and will we hear more of that influence in your music?
There’s a popular sound from Angola, I don’t know exactly what it’s called and it’s been used all over Africa. It’s been used all over Africa like in Benin and Congo, so we like to use the sound because when we're creating we like experimenting with different sounds from the world to figure out what sounds nice and what doesn’t. That whole tribal sound is really popular so it’s been dope playing around with it.
There’s a new style called 3 Step in the SA house world that is said to borrow from amapiano. What do you feel the future holds for amapiano, considering that it’s inspiring folks to start experimenting with the sound?
Yeah, 3 Step is like a new type of Afro house. It’s cool… but the name describes it, you use one kick that repeats three times and we don’t want our music to sound too repetitive, so we could use it in some parts of a song, but probably not the whole song. The future of amapiano is really just more sub-genres, who knows what’s next but we’re excited either way.
Can you tell us more about the mix? How did you put it together and what did you want people to be able to take away from this mix?
This mix is full of exclusives, it’s only beats so we want fans to focus on the production, mixing and tempo. We hope our fans enjoy it!
Shiba Melissa Mazaza is a freelance writer, follow her on Instagram