With their roots in eThekwini but now based in Jozi, Dirty Paraffin are an art/performance outfit consisting of Okmalumkoolkat (Smiso Zwane) and Dokta SpiZee (Zamani Xolo). With strong influences coming from kwaito and the Zulu culture, their sound is as genre-crossing as the culture they (and us!) are a part of. Dirty Paraffin are aware of what’s going on around them, in fact, they’re slap bang in the middle of it; online, on the streets and without a doubt in your ears.

DP Documentary - still

DP Documentary – still


Let’s start from the beginning, how did Dirty Paraffin come about at what point did you guys want to start making music together?
I met Dokta SpiZee when I arrived in Joburg from Durban in 2006. We linked through his brother Koolurk. We worked on a couple of design projects together but we both really wanted to make music. I had never recorded a song before then but I had been writing these weird poem-like rap verses for years. Dirty Paraffin was born out of our like-mindedness in music and communication. So, it came to us in 2009 to start making music. It happened to us really.

Tell us where does the band get its name?
The name came out of that nostalgic feeling about yester township life. Most families couldn’t afford electricity at that time, in Durban; the stove was the Primusstof and it was powered by Paraffin. This came to us when we started listening to a lot of brilliant ’80s local music that wasn’t embraced in the country, it was deemed bubblegum. We thought it was special though. We wanted to represent those artists and their hard work. We believe that we are on a mission to bridge that gap between that crazy time and now, so it’s future meets retro in a current melting pot of things.

You guys are every active on social networks, what value do you think this adds to your brand?
Most of our work is online because the local general media is too lazy to jump on new sounds/acts. So being online gives us a worldwide appeal. We dropped the Greatest Hits vol.1 Mixtape in 2009 but we are still getting international coverage from that till today. We believe that local lifestyle journos should be in the know and should always be chasing the new, not the other way around.

image: Paul Shiakallis

image: Paul Shiakallis


You guys have been covered by the likes of The Fader in the past, do you fear that you will become one of those acts that will eventually be bigger abroad than they are at home?
It really doesn’t matter where we will be welcomed. We used to fear that so much in the past but now it really doesn’t matter to us. How can we compete with the same gospel track and that same house beat with new artists taking turns at remaking every year? How are you supposed to sway Afro-pop lovers to something new, that doesn’t sound like watered-down Jazz or whatever else is in that winning formula. If our sound is big in countries abroad, then South Africa will catch up later. We will keep rapping and singing in our languages (there’s eleven to choose from). We will keep talking about our environment. It’s kind of like a Charlize Theron life story. Kind of like how Bob Marley got big after he got bootlegged in London. You just have to keep doing what you do, put shit out online so everybody can see. What happens after that, only time will tell.

It’s not like we don’t try to put our stuff in local media, but they are too lazy tanned scared to break something new. Look at what happened with Die Antwoord and Spoek Mathambo (watch our video interview with Spoek, here). South Africa will claim what’s theirs when the whole world jaw drops, but they still wouldn’t know what to do with you.

Dirty Paraffin mixes a lot of genres why have you chosen this?
We are making music in the 2000s, this is supposed to be the future. Michael Jackson is dead. The new South Africa is 18 years old. Lil B has dropped over a thousand tapes in the past two years. America has a black president. Virgin is trying to organize trips to other planets and the moon. Will Smith has grey hair and he is ghost writing for his son, who is also a rap star/ movie star. We have a semi-bullet train from Jo’burg to Pretoria. Cape Town is design capital of the world in 2014. Religions are falling on their knees. Men are marrying men and making babies with surrogate mothers. Vice versa. There’s penis enlargement and vagina tightening posters all over Joburg city. AIDS is killing people left and right, kids are smoking ARVs (ARVs are supposed to halt the AIDS).

There’s a bunch of stuff we could mention, just so you could understand that genres are meant to be blurred. Everything must come to an end, get destroyed, then something fresh blossoms. We are right in the eye of that storm, right in the middle.

PAPAP PAPAP! from Ravi Govender on Vimeo.


The local music scene is very saturated, how then do you guys distinguish yourself from all the music that is out there?
The local music scene is not saturated. The local music scene is trying to find itself. Gatekeepers are old and they want the same damn song. Gatekeepers are not in touch with what the youth is currently fond of and up to. We are not competing locally, we are competing internationally. We don’t think about how we are going to sound though, we just listen to a lot of new stuff and we really like the old obscure stuff so the result is usually automatic. Local artists would like to push boundaries like us but they are scared that they will be unnoticed like us, and that leaves them frustrated. We just don’t care, we do what we want.

Let’s speak a little bit about DP EP – what was the inspiration behind the project?
New South Africa and what a lovely thing it has become.

How did you guys go about creating and putting together this new offering?
We took songs that we really dug off of our first mixtape and we remixed them and then we added some more tracks. We also had new toys this time, SpiZee had just bought the Electribe machine and I was learning to play the Harmonica (I added that on Papap! Papap!) We grew quite a lot too, we are both proud fathers, so there’s a sense of maturity in our work, which equals quality. We also recorded it at Red Bull Cape Town studios instead of our houses.

How is this project different from music that you have done in the past?
The Greatest Hits vol.1 mixture was mainly remixes, so there were lots of sampled beats on there, but this one was mainly beats by SpiZee. Also we weren’t referencing this time but we were just making music that felt good to us.

Let’s speak a little bit about your creative process, how do you guys go from a concept or an idea to an actual finished product?
It’s all organic, some tracks come from situations, and some tracks come from the depths of my mind when SpiZee plays me a beat. We have tracks we have been talking about for four years and they are not recorded yet. Imagine what the final piece will be like? Shambeez!

image: myspace.com/dirtyparaffin

image: myspace.com/dirtyparaffin

You music is very ear- friendly but also transitions well into live performance, how do you manage that balance when you create your songs?
We are performance artists first, so that just happens naturally. I have been dancing since the age of eleven or so, so the music is only an extension of what I’m put here to say. The holy oxygen speaks through me.

What value do you think music like yours has to South African audiences today?
We are creating music that encourages the youth to look around them and make something. The youth thinks you have to look far, but actually the dope shit is around you daily. Pay attention and analyze everything, you will be surprised how rich our society is.

One of the key elements that makes you guys standout is the styling, tell us a little bit about that and what value it adds to Dirty Paraffin?
The styling has been there since, since… I don’t know, I started beasting on the best clothes since I was about twelve because my mom was a seamstress and an avid second-hand store finder. Mainly because we couldn’t afford brand new clothes. I think the swag is from my dad, I don’t know, he left early, I have a couple of pictures of him as references. SpiZee comes from a similar background. It just so happens that we make music. The value added is that we don’t need a stylist, ever.

You guys have toured, what are some of the weird and wonderful experiences you have had on the road?
I’d be lying if I’d to say we have toured extensively, but we’ve had our share of fun times. Like the time I danced so much I got a cramp on stage at a Doepelganger show in Cape Town. I kept telling people that I had a cramp but nobody believed me, even SpiZee. So I had to walk off mid-song. So we are back stage nursing this cramp and people are telling me different ways to cure it, all the while taking photos with us, buying me drinks etc. Hilarious shit!

What do you think it takes to build a following like you guys have over such a short period of time?
Hard work, faith and a relentless push online.

Pray to GOD and Cc your ancestors.


Dirty Paraffin from Meja L. Shoba on Vimeo.



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Read our previous interview with Okmalumkoolkat, HERE.

interview: Sihle Mthembu
Images: Paul Shiakallis, Myspace, DP documentary (shown above)