The GQ Young, Gifted and Black Series is an ode to men and women of colour who are unapologetically living out their dreams, following their drum beat and doing it successfully.
DJ Kyeezi, real name Khanya Siyengo, is one of SA’s most popular radio and media personalities. Last year he added the label of businessman, opening luxury champagne lounge Destiny with his three business partners.
Located in the heart of Cape Town, Destiny plans to set the precedent for the highest quality entertainment with a combination of class, luxury and style, offering an endless selection of premium drinks coupled with the trendiest music ranging from Hip Hop, Afrotech, Amapiano and R&B.
With a passion for people and life, the SABC radio DJ has no plans on sitting still and encourages others to do the same. In this interview he talks what 2023 means to him, dreaming big and making sure than when you get your foot in the door, to leave enough space for those behind you.
What have you been up to recently and what are you looking forward to this year?
I’ve been doing my thing – whether on radio, behind the decks DJing or emceeing an event, doing a voiceover or running the night club – I’m blessed to be working. That’s always been the dream.
Each year I have a theme. and for this year, I’ve gone with “Finding the Champion Within.” It’s 2023 and the number 23 is linked to the iconic Micheal Jordan. Basically MJ has been regarded as the metaphor for excellence in any field really for his dominance as a sports figure. So this year I’m looking for the champion within myself..
What’s your secret to career longevity and what has been your most important lesson learned during your journey thus far?
I’ll be honest, I do not have any secret ingredient. I don’t like getting comfortable with anything that I get the opportunity to do. I’m always finding ways to be the underdog, it keeps me hungry for more.
The most important lesson I’ve learned thus far has been to put your ego and pride aside, and to hit the ground and do everything brick by brick. It takes longer, but if you work on your foundation, whatever you do will stand the test of time. It’s a lot harder nowadays with social media and constantly benchmarking yourself on what other people are doing, but I’m a firm believer that my path is meant for me and I’ll run my race my way from some of the lessons I’ve learnt from others. I’m different and that’s okay with me.
What does being black mean to you? And what does the phrase “black excellence” mean to you?
Being Black to me is everything. It’s my strength, it’s also my pain because of what I carry from the ones that were here before me. Being Black for my generation to me means not only opening a door, but leaving a large enough gap for others to also enter. I accept the challenge of being Black, but I hope my kids one day won’t have to consider their skin colour at all.
If I may quote my favourite rapper and icon Jay-z, “Black Excellence is being Black but also being the very best and greatest at whatever it is that you do.” Furthermore, black excellence is empowering others to seek excellence at whatever it is that they want to do. You can’t be selfish with Excellence, everyone deserves it if they are willing to work for it.
Do you feel that being a person of colour has set you back in any way?
I’m a Black man in post-Apartheid South Africa. It has never set me back but it’s fuelled me to work harder to get what I believe I’m destined for. What is getting mad going to do for me? Nothing, so I work, and work and work harder. I’m aware that every room I walk into there are pre-determined ideal’s of a black man trying to make it, but with or without those ideals I’m still going to get it. Whether you are going to help me or not. You can’t stop greatness, you can only slow it down.
What is a book that you’ve read that has really stuck with you?
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. When I got a hold of this book it felt like I was reading the story about myself. I’m a creative and as much as the world is set in its ways, I just happen to see how things can also be done better, so I try in my own little way to add value where I can.
How can we create a better future for the next generation of all colour/ gender and orientation?
By sharing information and skills. What we learn should be passed on to the next to improve on, and for them to do it better. It’s easier said than done, but it’s necessary in my opinion. What’s the point of knowing it all if you can’t enable someone to also “know it all.”
When looking at race, gender and orientation, firstly you decide on what defines you, pushes you and also holds you back. I’ve had the privilege of seeing my mother move to another country, decide then and there to study, get her qualifications, raise a family with my father and still be professional. Its possible, with sacrifice and the ultimate degree of focus, you really can change your stars
I watched my parents work hard and migrate a family to another country for educational purposes that they weren’t able to get in their own home. So as much as there’s a system and a process with everything, for me it all starts with you – you are the key to your engine, the lighter to your candle and the giant to your shoes. Our greatest fear is that we powerful beyond measure. Don’t be scared of your light.
How do you measure success?
Through the positive impact you have on those around you. If you can walk into a room and point out how you’ve added value onto others, that to me is success. I’m not saying I don’t strive for my own success but as mentioned above, what is the point of climbing up the ladder if you can’t bring others with you. Imagine being successful alone? Just the thought of it is boring to me
What inspires you to do what you do?
Firstly my family. They really did everything in their power to make sure we saw the world, and decided on who we want to be as their kids while challenging us to strive for more everyday.
Secondly, in one of my answers above I said I’m different and I know it. For a number of years this feeling of being different scared me, especially in the entertainment industry. But I also figured that if I’m going to do this, I need to embrace who I am, as I can only improve from there. So I guess to a degree I can understand someone who feels like they do not belong, and that they are an outlier. If I’m an outlier and it’s okay, then they can be okay too.
What are the things you love the most about being black in your industry?
I bring the soul, the energy and I’m a voice. It changes things for kids in the hood when they see someone who looks like them telling them they can do it too. Like I said, if I can do it they can do it too.
Which person(s) of colour has been a blueprint/ inspiration for you and how so?
I pick up different things from different people. From my parents it was work ethic and to dream big. Jay-Z – Streets smarts into a business empire. Kevin Hart – Originality. Trevor Noah – Guts and foresight. Didier Magents – Authenticity and purity. PH – Business Acumen, and navigating spaces. Cindy – Courage and Guts
Many black entrepreneurs and creatives have spoken out about a lack of access and representation within their industries – how would you advise other young black entrepreneurs/ creatives on how to handle the challenge of getting their foot in the door?
My first bit of advice is “Don’t not knock on the door” – let your presence and energy be felt. Open the door using your own hand and walk in and “do not get comfortable”.
Listen to understand and not to respond. How are we going to change the game if we do not understand it first? Read the room and understand your role. I get that we all want to be superstars and we want to get there now immediately, but what’s the point of getting to the destination if we can’t carry the full weight. Equip yourself to go even beyond your dreams. Whatever it is that you do , do it like you are competing to be the best in the world. Because one day you could be.
What pressures come with being in a position of influence and how do you handle it?
I’m a human being first and I make mistakes, I am not perfect. Personally I’ve never tried to portray myself as anything else but myself. Another real pressure I feel is to have an opinion. I’ll be honest but I’m also completely okay with keeping quiet if I feel I’m not well informed. My input is not needed on everything.
What are the three things you are most grateful for?
My Family, my team (I have a group of people dedicated to making sure we reach the stars and beyond), and the roof over my head (life wasn’t always like this for me).
Why did you agree to be a part of this Young, Black and Gifted series?
I agreed, because I’m fresh, hungry and striving for greatness. I live by this quote, “Greatness is something you practice everyday, so go out there and Be Great.” If I have an opportunity to share this, hopefully we can unlock greatness in everyone.