By Edward Tsumele
It is late Friday afternoon, and a number of patrons are enjoying their sundown drinks. There is a couple not far from where a friend and I have occupied a table to do the same thing that everyone else was doing, including this couple, and that is to enjoy our Sundown drinks after work.
Then suddenly, there was some movement at the table not far from us, where this couple was seated. The man stood up, shuffled a bit, and then he was in a pathetic attempt to try and dance in rhyme and rhythm with a tune that the DJ had selected.
But it appeared he had a little too much to drink and his teps were not balanced. But for now forget about the fact that his dance moves were erratic and not that well balanced. In fact If this was a dance competition, I am sure he would not win any prize. He was not impressive as a dancer, and the lady that was with him must have realized this as she left the table to join him, and not to dance but to subtly persuade him to sit down.
The point is this patron was having fun. With difficulty, the lady companion of the inebriated dancing man, persuaded him to sit down, but sooner than later he was back on the dance floor. This time even braver to approach the DJ on her DJ’s booth. I never got to hear what he whispered to her. But the point is it seemed like he was disrupted by his lady companion as he was about to congratulate the DJ for her choice of smooth jazz sounds.
Ladies and gentleman welcome to Bertrand restaurant in Maboneng where Lesego Magwai holds forte as a DJ Friday, Saturday and Sunday, attracting the moneyed type that go to this establishment to chill, eat, drink and enjoy good sound form the DJ right in the heart of Maboneng.
Like other similar establishments in the country, having been disrupted a bit during the early stages of lockdown, and now in full swing after level 2 lockdown was declared by President Cyril Ramaphosa, allowing restaurants such as Bertrand to operate, Bertrand is finding its feet again, and music plays a very important part of its alluring atmosphere, and DJ Les G, as Magwai is called in entertainment circles, is at the heart of it.
Then come Saturday, I was back again at Bertrand, that quack place in Maboneng, known for its signature old furniture, that gives one an impression that you are in a farm house, and yet you are deep in inner city Johannesburg. And yes, the place has art on its walls, including photographs of famous artists and musicians such as Miriam Makeba and well known names in visual art are painted on its walls.
Bertrand’s interior decor has now become legendary and is quite a study in how one can create a farm house-like atmosphere in the middle of a cosmopolitan city like Johannesburg.
The décor is one thing that attracts patrons there both from the local community, mainly creatives and those from other parts of Johannesburg and far, including overseas visitors when the skies were still open before Covid 19 struck. But the real attraction for the Johannesburg middle class people with spare money to spend in these Covid struck times, with cash hard to come by, is the music, played by DJ Les G.
Her selection of sound is clever, attractive to those with money and a discerning taste in music. It is here where you will connect well with the music of Fela Kuti, Kofi Olomide, Letta Mbuli and any African adult contemporary sound that a mature crowd starved of such entertainment in Johannesburg, congregate and network.. The city’s entertainment scene is cluttered and one has to choose meticulously which place to go to for good music, and this is where people like Les G play a role almost like a therapist to the people who go to Bertrand.
DJ Les G, is one of Maboneng’s most treasured and hottest property at the moment, especially for mature tastes in music. The quality of the people who frequent Bertrand, mostly for its music, interior decor, chilled chilled atmosphere, and food, especially their chicken dishes, attest to that. This is a place that attracts the well heeled crowd.
And when I went back there on Saturday, for example, I found myself seated with a multi-award winning visual artist, a lawyer and journalist.
Come Sunday, when I went back to interview DJ Les G for this piece, I found myself sharing a table with a model and photographer, two filmmakers and a bank security It specialist. And DJ Les G’s music was infectious just like the corona virus. She played tunes that ranged from Fela Kuti to Kofi Olomide and the crowd enjoyed her selection. Some even tried to sing along, and here I will not mention names. The point is DJ Les G, is definitely a female DJs to watch out. She has released an EP called Queen of Hearts and the selection of her music she plays at Bertrand seems to touch the hearts of many loyal patrons.
“I was trained at Fuse, the DJ school started by DJ Zinhle in 2008 in Melville and I was one of the first people to enroll there. My idea was to train as a jazz DJ as I grew up surrounded by Jazz in my home in Atteridgeville, Pretoria. Both my parents love jazz. However there was no jazz DJ to teach me at Fuse, and therefore instead, I ended up training to be a house DJ,, and on the club scene I am known as a house DJ.
But my dream really is to be a jazz DJ eventually. When I came to Maboneng last year, I had no job and knew nobody. But when I walked in the streets looking for a place where I could Deejay, I saw Bertrand with its candles and its black and white painted walls. It was in the evening. I immediately knew this is my place, and approached the owner and that is how I ended up being the resident DJ,” Les G tells me.
Born as Lesego Magwai in Atteridgeville Pretoria, Les G plays at clubs, does house and corporate parties and events such as at gay parades where she is a regularly featured DJ.
She is well travelled too, having had gigs in overseas countries such as Spain. For example in 2015, she traveled to Spain to DJ there after having been spotted in Pretoria by a tourist who owned a restaurant in Spain, who impressed with her skills, invited her to gig there. She also took advantage of that offer to explore Spain before flying back to South Africa. She has interesting stories to tell about that trip, and we will, save the details here for another day.
However like many other creatives, the lockdown has affected her negatively, including losing her rented in Maboneng, and was forced to go back home to Atteridgeville in Pretoria, and only came recently that the lockdown level 2 allows restaurants such as Bertrand to operate until 10pm.
“Last year in December, I was booked to DJ in Ibiza, but was heart-broken when the contract and flights had to be canceled due to the outbreak of the coronavirus happened there earlier than here in South Africa in December.”
Since she graduated from Fuse, Les G has had a fulfilling career as a DJ, including a stint as a Saturday morning DJ at Munghana Lonene in Polokwane, as well as currently working as a DJ for an online Atlanta, US station.
However she also knows that life in the entertainment scene is not like a 9 to 5 job, and certain privileges enjoyed by people with such jobs are not extended to independent freelance creatives in South Africa.
“For example, it is almost impossible to get a bond for a house from banks because they do not trust creatives due to the unstable nature of our income.
Fortunately for me, I acquired a piece of land in Atteridgeville where I will build a house. I got that piece of land a few days before lockdown kicked in. I would encourage other creatives to also start to think about investing their income in other projects such as buying land,” she advises.
That is not the only business Les G is involved in. She also has a cosmetic line called Les G Cosmetics that she will launch soon.
And luckily for her, during lockdown, she also landed a job as a marketing and media liaison person for a Non Governmental Organisation called Kopano Manyana, which gives shelter to homeless people and those displaced and made homeless by Gender Based Violence as well as homeless children. That is her 9 to 5 job.
Otherwise you can catch DJ Les G at Bertrand in Maboneng from Friday to Sunday from noon until late, and believe me you, you will find yourself dancing to a tune from her, just like that man who was seated close to our table on that fateful Friday and was forced to try his dance skills on the floor with disaster. You can only blame that on DJ Les G’s good ear for good music.