Thursday, October 1, 2020

Antonio Vallinoti’s Crazy Disco legacy

The mention of Tony’s Crazy Disco elicits mischievous smiles on the face of a 30-something, Tlokweng-raised lady. She fondly recalls her teens, jumping out of her bedroom window to go, listen and dance to ‘the crazy disco’ and returning to find her mother having prepared a switch that would promptly be used to restore chastity. In a shamed voice she adds, “I once stuck my foot in a pot of cooked pap at a friends house, whilst scurrying about in the dark getting ready to go out.”

“I remember those young kids,” Antonio ‘DJ Tony’ Vallinoti says, amid boisterous laughter. “They would stand outside drinking Fanta or Coke, dancing to the music and leave at around 12 midnight. Those were the days when children sought clean fun; nowadays you’ll find 14-year-olds swigging at these Hunter’s and Spin things,” he says warily.

During his DJing career in the late 70s and early 80s, Vallinotis saved money, bought equipment and established a mobile disco that rented community halls for P10 ÔÇôP 20 in Tlokweng and Mochudi, where his crazy disco was wildly popular.

“We would charge between 50 Thebe and P 2.50 per head, sell drinks from two tubs (one for drinks the other for beers).”

Selling from tubs was an experience. “We would get frozen fingers all night from fishing for drinks in those tubs looking for the requested drink.”

“The whole idea was really about taking the disco to the people. In those days, there was virtually no entertainment.”

“I have been DJing for 35 years, 28 of those years I was playing in Botswana,” DJ Tony tells me, widening his eyes for emphasis. “Back in the older days, I played rock-and-roll at clubs in Johannesburg.” A seemingly bitter divorce prompted him to take up an offer from his employer to manage an auto electrical workshop in Gaborone in the late 70s. “I saw it as an opportunity to start a new life,” said DJ Tony, who eventually remarried, taking a Motswana wife and has two children.

“An acquaintance, who was a committee member at Gaborone Club, one day mentioned that they were trying to make the social club livelier. I offered to play and, in exchange, requested that they give me a plate of food and a drink.

“On the night, I turned up with my Hi Fi equipment, two Pioneer turntables and a Phonic mixer, I played rock-and-roll: Pink Floyd… and the set was well received because the crowd was predominantly white expatriates.”

DJ Tony went on to become a regular fixture at Gaborone Club playing monthly. “I was getting paid P50 ÔÇô P200 per gig. That was big money then,” he beams. “I got paid after much persuasion to accept money, I was really playing because of my love for music.”

During those days DJ Mos, who named his mobile disco ‘Sounds International’, was resident at Notwane Club.

On his part, he said, the name Tony’s Crazy Disco just popped into his (Vallinoti’s) head when the Gaborone Club asked what to call his set for publicity purposes. “The name sparked interest; people wondered whether it was the disco or the DJ that was crazy.”

“Mos and I became acquainted. He would invite me to play with him at Notwane Club and I reciprocated by also inviting him to the Gaborone Club. We also played at Mafenyatlala along the road that leads to the Tlokweng border. I started incorporating African disco in my sets at Gaborone Club and the expatriates danced to it like crazy,” says the Italian born Antonio.

In the early 80s, DJ Tony became resident at Shanaz Restaurant and Beat Street, a club that was at Oasis Motel. “I played alongside a tall guy named DJ Sam.”

“I had become very popular at parties, and incorporated American soul like the Temptations, Prince and Shalamar into my DJ play list.

“I started a trend for myself of approaching bars in the early eighties and worked in turning them into formidable clubs.”

Lekadiba, which presently trades as Blue Note, was the next stop.

“However, I feel I really made my mark in the mid eighties at Bodiba (the club in Mogoditshane known currently as Chez Ntemba). I would play my set on those rocks on Fridays, Saturdays nights and Sunday afternoons. Bodiba had previously been a beer hall and I was instrumental in turning it into a club that very first time. That club was and is a gold mine.

“I got lethargic playing at the same venue for too long, doing the same things every day. I then moved to Club 500, which now is Club Havana, where I, again, was instrumental in turning a drinking hall into a fully-fledged nightclub.
“I approached recording companies in South Africa and they would give me music to promote in Botswana. I also supplied Radio Botswana with music they still play today.”

The late eighties found Vallinotis merging with Steve Raman, who currently owns Satchmo’s and Club Havana, converting what was previously known as Theo’s Night Spot into a club that caused much excitement, Night Shift, named for the Commodores’ hit song. “That was a good club, playing live music with resident band, Afrosunshine, which featured Lekofi Sejeso. We brought in acts from South Africa every second weekend, Yvonne Chaka Chaka, Brenda and CJB frequented the club. Our African clientele, who enjoyed the music would stay downstairs, Indians, coloured and whites would go upstairs where international music was played. We hadn’t anticipated or planned for the division which was quite an eyesore.”

“After two years, Raman and I parted ways because we differed on some issues,” Vallinotis stated candidly.

Club Hollywood, which focussed on the youth, was the last club he opened next. DJ Fresh was an MC at the club.

“I actually have footage from then with a super slim Fresh compeering. We had the young DJs of the day, Eddie Ed, Skizo, and Dolphus. We hosted Tich Mataz amongst other international DJs. Those where the days Ragga boomed in Botswana. I had also opened a store called Disco City.”

Disco City supplied RB2, which had just opened, with music and provided a weekly Top 20 chart. “There were three music stores in Gaborone in the nineties; one was Moropa owned by Ephraim Setshwaelo, one was owned by Mos.”

Currently, DJ Tony offers his DJ services to corporate clients and weddings. “I provide superb services because I know what I am doing. These young DJs don’t put much thought into planning their play lists for the evening; they will start booming house music way before food is served at the weddings.

“All the scratching these young DJs do is all in vain if they can’t organise their play lists decently. A DJ should match the people’s mood, get them to the dance floor and keep them there,” says the DJ, who also ‘has spotted DJs who set out to entertain the over 35s, but switches “Boom! Boom! Boom!” once they spot Maforteen in the crowd. “They will then set out to eat the Maforteen, forgetting the rest of the audience.”

The DJ concluded in slapstick humour. Only people over 50 years can deliver flawlessly.

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