#BehindTheNoise: We shine a spotlight on Zethu Gqola, Steyn Entertainment’s Head of Marketing

At TATC we’re very used to highlighting the wonderful women who top the music charts, dominate the silver screen, and slay the entertainment industry. But there are so many brilliant women whose roles in, and contributions to, the entertainment industry go unnoticed.

These women are the brains behind the bright lights, the shot callers, the string-pullers, the coordinators, the managers, the photographers, the journalists. These women often operate behind the scenes, but with our new campaign, #BehindTheNoise, we want to call some of these ladies to fore and give them the recognition they deserve.

The first woman on our radar is Zethu Gqola.

Zethu Gqola is the head of marketing for Steyn Entertainment and, by extension, Rocking the Daisies. “Basically, I’m in charge of all marketing, PR and social media for Daisies and In the City,” she clarifies.

Year-after-year, Daisies brings down a small army of international headliners, so I ask about being star struck: “The star struckedness hasn’t come for me on an international level because my taste has never really been catered for. When we announced that we were bringing down Milky Chance [in 2015] for instance, I was like ‘Da fuck is Milky Chance?’,” she laughs. 

I recall that year at Daisies but let’s be honest, I wasn’t there for Milky Chance, either.

“Who is currently getting my heart palpitating is Distruction Boyz. They were the soundtrack to my pregnancy, funnily enough. My baby is most responsive to Gqom because she was hearing their music back-to-back in the womb.”

I ask her what 18-year-old, freshly matriculated, Zethu thought she’d be doing as a career and she bursts out laughing. “Oh my God, I went to Rhodes to study towards a Bachelor of Social Sciences, majoring in Law. I was interested in being either a lawyer or a journalist.” Three years at university changed her mind and she dropped out.

She motivates her decision to leave adding, “I just felt that I was destined to be something great, but not necessarily famous. And I don’t know when the ‘I could do anything’ self-brainwashing happened but I’ve done everything I’ve ever tried to achieve.” Her confidence is refreshing, and she’s got the results to back it up. She shakes her head and confesses, “But if you told me 11 years ago that I’d be where I currently am, there’s no way I would believe you!”

After she quit school, she started a blog called The Diary of a Stoned Love Child, before moving from Matatiele to Cape Town to intern at Marie Claire. I interrupt her to ask where Matatiele is. “Exactly! A one-horse town without a horse.”

She knows all about the side hustle, at one point juggling three jobs (as a waitress, writer and working in music PR), before joining the Daisies team in 2015. She started out as the PR coordinator for Daisies in 2015, moving up to Head of Social Media and Digital Marketing in 2017. “I guess I’m a textbook example of climbing that damned ladder and kicking off those at the top,” she laughs. “Some people think it’s so glamorous, and I love it, but it’s not glamorous at all. It’s been an interesting ride but it’s a lot to deal with, tryna sell 10 000 tickets in Joburg [In the City] and 15 000 tickets in Cape Town [Rocking the Daisies]! And my job is to sell, no matter what.”

Gqola is a proud advocate for female empowerment and for people of colour. “As a person of colour, I struggled to get into this industry! I only got here by luck. It’s not that people choose white first, but people choose experience over potential. And most of the people with experience are not black so I’ve taken it upon myself to infiltrate the zone,” she says jokingly, but I know from experience that this comes from a place of hard hustle and truth.

What she most enjoys about the job is how it’s grown her capacity for problem-solving. She elaborates explaining, “It’s made me a more critical thinker, a more cautious thinker, and an informed thinker. It’s also made me way more appreciative of local artists and the level of their work.”

I wonder which women in the music industry inspire her and without a moment’s hesitation, she responds: “I think Tecla [shout out to our editor] because she became the person that I wanted to be. To this day, no one has survived and evolved the way she has. She really has moved with the times. She’s at the forefront of a lot of things… like influencing taste and inspiring promoters to look at people they may never have known existed.

Her list of inspirational women also includes fashion influencer, publicist and designer, Maria McCloy, as well as Farah Fortune. Of Fortune she elaborates saying, “Farah Fortune has built the biggest PR empire – African Star Communications – for any woman, or anyone really in SA aligned with artists, music and events. She goes by the name “Pitbull in Heels” because that’s exactly what she is.”

Gqola stands out in the festival scene as one of the few black women involved, so I ask about being treated differently: “People just assume that it’s not a thing to have little ol’ me battling it out in the back with Kobus [hypothetical person]. But I’m his boss, you know? People just don’t see my situation often enough to find it normal. But I know that my time of being the background girl has come to an end.”

My father always says – The reward for a job well done is more work. I look at Zethu Gqola, and she is physical evidence that Papa Clapper is right. All I can do is sip my coffee and smile at her because I’m genuinely inspired by this tiny little lady doing big, big things.