[By: Kgomotso Moncho]
Nkosinathi Maphumulo, known to the public as Black Coffee is South Africa’s sweetheart as well as a recognised music producer in the international house music scene. This is due to the creativity he brings to his production and at the heart of his success story and music hits, is a deep love of music and collaboration. He has been a game changer from the beginning and he raised the bar with the live recording of Africa Rising, a DVD of interpretations of his music with a 24 piece orchestra last year.
Just before this, he set a new record of a 60 hour DJ-ing set, aimed at raising funds for his foundation, which supports disabled people in the country. It was around the same time that he unveiled the curiosity around why he always DJs with one hand.
When he was just a teenager he was involved in a car accident that left his left arm disabled. This was during the celebrations of Nelson Mandela’s release when a speeding vehicle ran over the crowd and injured him. Black Coffee hails from Durban with some of his roots in Mthatha in the Eastern Cape and he reveals he was always been drawn to music as a child.
“I loved singing and dancing. When I got to Standard 5, I joined a music class until matric and never looked back,” he says. By that time he knew music was his calling, but the vision of dream became clear when he started dj-ing in high school and realised the kind of skills he had.
He developed his skills when he studied music at the then Natal Technikon (now Durban University of Technology) and this is where he started a band called Shana with friends, Mnqobi ‘ Shota’ Mdabe and Demor Sikhosana, who are also active in the dance music scene in the country. Shana stands for Simply Hot And Naturally African and it is a vocally driven group with an emphasis on African rhythms and harmonies. The group has gone on to produce four albums. Black Coffee’s role in the group was not only limited to production, he also sings in the group.
This a talent that he kept obscure until the Africa Rising DVD, where he opened the show with a vocal solo, doing a Victor Ntoni classic, Wa Thula Nje. A remix of this is found in his second album, Have Another One. He says that was a deliberate move. “I wanted people to see that part of me and I was also paying tribute to the song and the legend behind it, who was also the highlight of that DVD recording,” says Black Coffee.
Back to his journey, he got signed to a record company in England called Melt 2000, while he was still studying music, which was a great achievement for him. In 2001 he was offered an opportunity to freelance for various clubs and promoters until securing residency at Voodoo Lounge night club in Pretoria. This is where he got mentored by the legends and pioneers of house music in South Africa, such Christos, Vinny da Vinci and Oskido. This was the most happening time for house music and clubbing and Pretoria was at the heart of it.
In 2003 he was chosen as one of two South African participants in the Red Bull Music Academy which gave him recognition in the South African and international DJ scene. He has participated at the Sonar music festival, one of the largest music festivals in the world, and played with heavy weights such as Osunlade, Charles Webster and Frank Roger.
He went solo with his self entitled debut album, which won him a SAMA award in the Best Dance category in 2006. Black Coffee’s signature became collaborating with and remixing other artists music. This included the likes of Hugh Masekela, with a remix of Stimela, which helped put the DJ out there. There were also collaborations and remixes of Mafikizolo, Thandiswa Mazwai, and Busi Mhlongo.
This signature can be seen as a way to encourage collaborations, especially between the young and the old musicians. But there were purist who saw this as music being tainted. Black Coffee’s reply to this is that, “Within House music there are so many sub genres, people must find good house music and pay attention.”
With South Africa now sitting as one of the biggest markets for house music, with the likes of German Producer and DJ, Ralf Gum, having moved to Cape Town, it seems there is truth to what Black Coffee saying. He released his second album, Have Another One in 2007 and his third, Home Brewed in 2010, which is probably one of his most defining albums to date. On it he features Ringo, Hugh Masekela, Zakes Bantwini and new talent Zano, Thiwe and Tumelo Ruele.
Talking about his work ethic, he says, “I love collaborating and partnering with people who can offer what I can’t. So when I started out I licensed my releases to different labels around the world and also according to the sound each label represented. My strategy is having a vision, focus and hard work.”
His biggest achievement remains the Africa Rising DVD whose highlight is having the late Victor Ntoni as part of the show. “I’m glad our path crossed and we learnt a lot from him. The whole show is the highlight of my life. The DVD represents the new Africa and getting our own dreams,” says Black Coffee.
His musical taste is anything that is soulful which includes influences ranging from Donny Hathaway, Curtis Mayfield, John Coltrane, to Ceelo Green, Anthony David, Dwele and many more.
He ends this interview with a gripe, and perhaps food for thought on the issue of musicians and their royalties in the country.
“I wish the societies involved could get more innovative ways to make sue artists get the money due to them without any hassles, whether the money is from the broadcasters or live venues,” he says.