It can move us to dance and sing, providing the soundtrack to our daily lives, defining our cultures and establishing our identities. Today, music makers in Africa are generating the beat of a continent and remixing their own unique sounds into the African music scene.
This week, CNN’s ‘African Voices’ meets rising star Black Coffee, a South African DJ whose name is garnering attention around the world. Black Coffee is famous in South Africa for his original style of ‘Afropolitan’ house beats, and is fast becoming one of the hottest EDM DJs in the world.
Black Coffee, whose real name is Nkosinathi Maphumulo, has three South African Music Awards to his name and has released four albums, with his most recent, Africa Rising, going double platinum within a month of its release.
He tells African Voices that he gravitated to music at a young age: “Music is the biggest part of our lives in the township… when I finished high school I went to study music on a university level, that’s when I knew that I want to learn production.”
It’s clear Black Coffee takes his craft very seriously. “I see DJ-ing as an art… For me it’s so important to play what I know, so that then I can highlight the music, and entertain you with the music, and show you things, and you’ll hear things that you didn’t hear before, that’s what I do. I try to be one with the music and understand the music first on my own and then I present the music to you.”
His favourite part of DJ-ing, he tells the programme, is watching others enjoy the music: “I love being a DJ, I love to watch people having fun, at times I play and I see everything… I love watching people’s reactions when I play, that’s the stuff that when I go home after the gig I’m like I touched someone. For me, that’s the most beautiful thing.”
Black Coffee has built a music empire by pioneering the unique sounds of modern Africa. He tells CNN about the popularity of music in his home country of South Africa: “It’s not something that you take to a festival or to the internet to experience, it’s just everywhere around us. So it’s not so much an event, it’s our lifestyle basically…. Electronic music is quite big here. It’s in the radio, in TV stations, in people’s homes.”
The DJ is proud of his African roots, telling African Voices: “As a continent now, musically, we are a powerhouse.”
Black Coffee’s huge success is due not just to his talent, but also to his business acumen. He tells CNN, “One year I released four singles, and everyone was shocked, how do you release four singles in a year and they all became number one, and at some point were competing against each other on the top three, because they were released by different labels… That was the vision; it was the strategy to get into that scene and worked quite well.”
But despite his success, Black Coffee has faced significant challenges in his climb to the top. He tells the programme how a tragic traffic accident when he was 14 almost derailed his life: “It was the morning when Nelson Mandela was coming out of jail, the whole country was celebrating that and people were singing in the streets… around three or four o’clock in the morning there was this big accident, a taxi just slammed to the crowd, and six people got injured and two passed away, including the driver of the taxi. I dislocated my shoulder terribly, to a point that they almost amputated my arm because there was no life.”
The injury has had a lasting impact. “Over the years the nerves are growing back. Now it’s better, I’ve been training it, I think it’s one of my projects, when people ask what are you working on, silently I know that is what I’m working on, I’m trying to bring life back in it…This experience changed my life, I never take anything for granted.”
He credits faith with having gotten him through that experience, and with the success he has seen as an artist: “It’s one thing that got me to where I am today, to believe in the power of dreams. As an artist everything that I dreamt before, or everything that I wanted to do I worked so hard that I achieved it, and there’s more things that I want to achieve. Faith is that call. It’s the backbone of it all.”
Black Coffee hopes that his faith and success can help inspire others, telling African Voices: “If I can change something about this country it is to let people know that everything is possible.”
African Voices featuring Black Coffee airs Friday, July 31 at 10.30 am SAST, and at the following times on CNN International: Saturday, August 1 at 4.30 am SAST and 4.30 pm SAST; Sunday, August 2 at 12.30 pm SAST and 7.30 pm SAST, Monday, August 3 at 11.30 am SAST and Tuesday, August 4 at at 5.30 am SAST.
Tune in to CNN on DStv channel 401 or log on to www.cnn.com/africanvoices