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Get To Know: Charisse C

Get To Know: Charisse C

Get acquainted with Charisse C, the Southern Africa-born, UK-raised DJ embracing amapiano's unifying power

Southern Africa-born and UK-raised, Charisse C has been collecting the old and new sounds of her Zimbabwean and South African heritage for a while now, and is always on the lookout for new ways and places to present her findings. Her No Signal radio show acts as a kind of directory for the African diaspora, faithfully detailing the history of region-specific genres, from the Zulu folk sounds of maskandi to the popular protest songs of chimurenga. And though she’s also been known to throw down the odd gqom mix, it’s clear that amapiano is where her heart is at. In fact, Charisse C is helping turn Europe on to the sound, one listener at a time.

The DJ recounts a recent conversation with a taxi driver in Ibiza, who happened to be playing SA house as she approached his car. “He asked me if I liked the music and what kind of music I play, and I said the best way to explain it is to just play it for you,” she remembers. The driver handed Charisse his phone as they made their way through San Antonio and she played Kabza De Small’s ‘Rekere 2’. “He was like, ‘Woah, this is beautiful’ and started screenshotting all the tracks I played. We were driving past Amnesia and he was like, ‘Maybe one day you’ll come back and I’ll see you playing there’. It was a really lovely moment.”

Charisse was writing about music long before she started DJing. By age 15, she was sharing thoughts on music blogs and by 16 editing the work of others. Trips from her home in Reading to shows in London brought her into regular contact with other creatives and soon enough she made the capital home, taking up a journalism degree south of the river.

Some of her first DJ outings were open format — and she even had a short stint with a gospel house choir — but by 2019, amapiano had taken centre stage. This meant that when amapiano hit the UK in the summer of 2021, she was more than ready to meet the demand. “There’s so much room in this one genre and it’s given me so much freedom,” she tells DJ Mag. “It’s freedom music because people are making it out of struggle.”

The mid-tempo and intricately layered grooves of this sound, nurtured for over a decade in SA townships, have quite literally shifted UK dancefloors, and for Charisse, it couldn’t be more perfectly timed. “I think amapiano is one of the biggest music phenomena,” she tells us, “and what I’ve been working towards is for it to be programmed among a wider umbrella of music. I’m always trying to push new things and play in places that wouldn’t normally have someone like me play there.” 

Having finally received her British citizenship during lockdown, Charisse is now able to cast a wider net, playing sets in Ibiza, Amsterdam and South Africa this year alone. But Charisse’s ambitions lie further than the dancefloor. Having noted the strong musical roots laid down by the West Indian and West African diasporas in the UK, she believes amapiano could play a similar role for second-generation Southern Africans like her. “When you think about the huge influence Jamaica has on the everyday life of Black British culture and the presence of West African music in Black British identity, it’s easy to find a lot of touch points,” she explains. “Amapiano has created a significant touch point for us.”

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Ria Hylton is DJ Mag's staff writer and reviews editor. Follow them on Twitter @ria_hylton