Multi-talented artist, painter and musician Leon Botha sadly passed away on 5 June 2011. Adrian Davies was fortunate enough to have sat down with Leon last year for an interview, which we featured in issue 20 of one small seed. As a tribute to the Leon, we have re-featured this interview.

Believed to have been the longest living Progeria sufferer in the world, Leon lived his life to the fullest, becoming an accomplished painter and hip-hop artist, who regularly featured with Die Antwoord on stage. DJ Solarize, Leon Botha to friends and family was a hugely inspirational figure both in South Africa and internationally – and will continue to be one for years to come. To follow is the interview with Leon by Adrian Davies that was featured in  issue 20 (sep/oct/nov 2010) of one small seed – “The 5th Anniversary Issue”.

DJ Solarize: Deck Wizard

DJ Solarize (Leon to his mom) is an example of mass media gone bad. While the media has done much to draw attention to his impressive art skills and his part in the SA hip-hop scene, it nonetheless relies on the one aspect of Leon Botha that is all too obvious. Ninja from his crew Die Antwoord put it best: “We all got that disease. It’s just that Leon’s cool with it.”

What Ninja means to say is: we’re all dying – Leon’s just aging a little quicker.  But those who know him say this gives him a special awareness of the preciousness of the present. And that’s where his creative power lies. At 25, Leon is a DJ, artist, and an incredibly spiritually in-tune human being.

Entering Leon’s northern suburb Cape Town home, his mom opens the door to a room hung with large-scale paintings depicting the four elements of hip-hop culture. It’s Leon’s work. Walking in on a cane about as high as he is, Leon’s fist raises to meet mine. We go through to his bedroom, his sanctum, furnished with artwork, books on symbolism, a rack of every awesome rap CD ever recorded, an equivalent one of vinyl, and a set of turntables.

Both growing up in Apartheid’s State of Emergency, we reminisce about Cape hip-hop, the glory days in the birthplace of South African hip-hop, and its key crews like Prophets of da City (POC). I’m surprised at how immersed Leon is in all these guys’ lives – from Waddy Jones (now going as Ninja) to old-school Mitchell’s Plain artists like Isaac Mutant, E.J von Lyrik and the late Mr. Fats. We speak of Lord of the Rings and Star Wars and he talks of Yoda being a metaphor. He tells me he got into hip-hop around 1993. He squints in recollection, like it was 40 years ago.

“My cousin and I got into Public Enemy, POC, The Beastie Boys and Run-DMC, trying to find as much of it as we could – which, during those times, was difficult. Most SA music shops didn’t even have a rap or hip-hop section. We managed to get the first POC albums and those made us hungrier to learn as much about this culture and the styles and the references. It spoke as a minority for the minority. I connected with that. Music for people on the margin. A voice for the people whose voice wasn’t being noticed.  It literally came across my path and grabbed me,” he tells. “Because I had experienced it to a certain degree, I understood it. It was a part of me that I grew up with. So it wasn’t as much as I connected with it, but that it reflected me.”

Watching him in-the-mix, his ring bedecked fingers skitter across the decks like alien spiders. “I think I was more drawn to turntabilism than DJing,” he relates. “It came from seeing guys like Ready D and DJ Azuhl perform and that brought inspiration. I had to wait three years before I could afford decks of my own. Now, I just mix, but I try to incorporate my style of mixing from a turntabilism aspect, so I’m doing a lot of things – techniques like bubbling and juggling and scratching. Just listening to the music and appreciating it… My understanding of it is that hip-hop is not just music, but a way of life and a journey.”

Whether it’s a Facebook status update sprouting some ancient Eastern philosophy or an ingot of his own mind, wisdom through attention and understanding is a major part of how Solarize projects himself.

“I don’t want to study art further because I don’t want to confine anything I do to a certain level. The pressure of saying I believe this or that culture kind of expects something. For me, it’s just how I feel. I need to experience things as an individual, as opposed to a culture. It’s a view that I know not a lot of people agree with, but it’s my personal path and life. That’s the way I experience it. Art is just a place where I draw parallels between life and art. I mean, it’s all just love on the one hand and pain on the other hand and that’s life and art.”

words: Adrian Davies, images: kope/figgins, Sean Metelerkamp (black & white image)Leon Botha