During Milan Fashion Week Fall 2018 we had the pleasure to interview South Africa superstar Black Coffee. A household name in his home country for more than a decade, the talented DJ and producer has fulfilled his dream to spread Afro House music all over the world, earning numerous awards over the last few years.
Looking back at his career, the esteemed DJ – real name Nkosinathi Maphumulo – talked about the craft he’s dedicated the last 13 years of his life to, sharing his thoughts about DJing, fashion, next projects and how his home country has always influenced his music.
Hello and welcome to House of Frankie, Underground Radio in Milan, Italy. Today we are honoured to be joined by extraordinaire DJ and producer Black Coffee. Hi, how are you? Nice to have you here in Milan.
Hi, I’m good, thanks for having me!
Before we start with the interview, I would like to thank you for being here at our HQ.
You’re in Italy for the Milan fashion week and you’re one of its most important guest stars. How important do you think is Music in the field of Fashion? Have you ever collaborated with any designer or brand?
Music and Fashion goes hand in hand, I think since the beginning of time they always co-existed. I’ve done collaborations with different fashion designers, back in South Africa and we’re actually working on a big collaboration of Fashion, Art and Music, where we want to build a college called FAM, which indeed stands for Fashion, Art and Music. We believe artists part of it, so we’re doing a very huge collaboration. We involved different people from the Fashion and Architecture world. One of the people we’re working with – who’s gonna actually design the building – is Virgil Abloh from Off-White. We have a local architect FAM from South Africa called Saota who is going to look after everything that has to do with the building. So, again, I believe and know that Music and Fashion always go hand in hand.
You’re quite active on social media! Your fans can live your life through your videos and photos. How important do you think is a direct contact with them?
Social media is one of the strongest things today, I encourage everyone, even in different businesses, all the people I socialize and work with, because it is a direct way to speak to your market. However, I was very reserved just as a person and when I tried Snapchat, I failed dismally. I don’t even know my password anymore because I felt it was a little bit too personal and I couldn’t be that personal. But with Instagram it’s easier cause I don’t have to say anything; I can show people where I travel, what I do, I can share a lot of things, something that is part of my life on a personal level, but also some part of my work, so much funnier things. Today I got a message from a guy who says he is a pastor in a church, and he’s like: “Can you please donate some money? I wanna build a church.” So, I went to his profile and he posted different cars that he wants to buy for himself. So, I shared that, it’s like “How can you say you want money to build a church when at the same time you’re not selfless enough to sacrifice your love for your personal things?” And it’s something I shared, I share such things. Sometimes I also share the messages that I get from the fans. I try to be as active as I can on social media because I believe it is a getaway. Not only do people buy into music but they also wanna buy into your life, your lifestyle as well.
How do you balance your job as a DJ with that of a producer and Soulistic Music owner?
It’s been the hardest thing to do. In the past, when I didn’t have much time to make music, I’ve always had the dream to own one, but I understood very well that I wouldn’t be able to run the record label. So, from the beginning someone has been running it. Amaru is the one that has been running it, it’s always been him, he makes all the decisions, if he has to ask me anything then I’m one call away. Besides, I’m not really needed in the running of the record company, cause I’m also an artist on the label. Anyway, it’s been hard to balance making music and touring, but I’m changing that this year. I’ve started making music and it’s amazing to make music again, it’s just a matter of making it short, I find time to do it, as hard as it is. I need and want to do it, so I’m definitely making more music this year.
Right in front of you, there’s a selection of canvas, that’s what we call our Artists’ “Gallery Wall”, showcasing some of our ideals and inspirational figures from the international underground music scene. Is there anyone among them who has influenced you or whom you’re very close to?
There’s a lot of them. Louie Vega, he’s the strongest! We were introduced to his music much earlier than the other guys in South Africa. He used to tour South Africa a lot, he’s songs were on the national radio, some songs were in Latino and the locals would sing the lyrics. He’s one of the most recognised DJs in South Africa. But there’s more, like Dennis Ferrer, he used to tour South Africa a lot. Who in my opinion is one of the best music producers of our time – every time he releases something I’m always the first one to jump in and listen to, as a producer he’s extremely underrated – is Kerri Chandler, who also toured South Africa a lot. I see Seth Troxler, whom I recently play with last year at Ultra South Africa. As to the other guys, I just met them in the last 3-4 years, like Solomun, The Martinez Brothers and Terry Hunter, who I’ve known for quite some time. I was sending him a song last night while he sent me some music he’s been working on. That’s about it. There’s also Richie Hawtin, with whom I was doing some workshops in South Africa, about 2 years ago. We were doing some bridges for music.
Our digital platform, House of Frankie, was born as a project dedicated to Frankie Knuckles, and more in general, as a tribute to house music. Do you have any memory of him?
No, I’m from South Africa, and I’d like to think that we’re not very old with house music, but I’m definitely sure that the guys that came before me, DJs like Oskido, DJ Christos, DJ Vinny Da Vinci, they would have all musical memories. By the way, I just know a couple of songs, but I wasn’t in that era when I started playing.
Reading your bio, I learned that your personal history is strictly related to South Africa, the country where you were born and raised. Nowadays, you’re one of the most famous artists in the international electronic music scene. We would like to know more about your childhood, the difficulties you went through at the beginning of your career.
I was born in Durban which is a city in South Africa but when I was 8 years old I moved to a smaller town called Mthatha where I was raised by my grandmother. It was more a village, much smaller and there I literally grew up milking cows. So, I went from being a city boy to a village boy. I learned so many good lessons about working hard and being responsible as a kid and I think that’s when my love for music also developed. I lived there until I finished school, until I did my high-school and while I was there I was involved in different musical things like the choir. I was in a gospel choir – we had our own group – so, I was always involved in music in growing up there.
As a kid I didn’t have much difficulties in music, because it was more for a hobby, it wasn’t a thing I wanted to do seriously at the time, only later in the years, when I finished high school. Then, I went to the college to study music and I think that’s when one started to really try to make the dream come true, of being really involved in music.
How much have both your country, Africa, and your experience around the world influenced your production, your music?
I think my music is very influenced by South Africa, even when I didn’t want to. Every time I’m approaching a song in a different way, like for example I’m inspired by the island, by Ibiza and I wanna try to do something new, it sounds like it would be from there and that’s something that I can’t shake off. I think that the African roots always live in the music, no matter how hard I try – not that I want to be out – but sometimes I try different things, it’s part of my grow. It’s even worse with the music I play, you can’t shake the African soul in it, so it is part of me.
You and Pete Tong have something in common: a successful live show. On the one hand Tong is currently bringing his Ibiza Classics with the Heritage Orchestra conducted by Jules Buckley around England, performing timeless house music classics. On the other, your live orchestral show Africa Rising debuted in 2011 at Durban’s Moses Mabhida Stadium. In 2012 it went on to become a top selling live DVD and CD and then won “Best Dance Album” at the 2013 South African Music Awards. During the show you performed a live acoustic & electronic mix in front of thousands of fans. Would you like to tell us more about that experience? Also, in your opinion, how important is it to both play music with real music instruments and to listen to it?
African Rising was an idea that came in a conversation I had with a friend of mine, who’s on television, and his name is Glenn Van Loggerenberg. He has a deep passion for producing television but he’s also a DJ. So, as I have a deep passion for music and I’ve always had an idea of using live orchestration when performing, we were having a conversation about it and he said that it was actually possible, that we could do it. We started working towards it, and that’s how we started planning the Moses Mabhida show, a very expensive exercise but it was all worth it. We bet on ourselves, put our own money, vision and dream and it’s now a show that is alive. We’ve done another one in Soweto and we’re actually planning to do an African Rising show in London this year. We believe it has a bright future, it just needs to be positioned in a right way.
Live music is quite important, even with electronic music, you just need to know where and how to present it. You don’t have to do it everywhere, just create an environment, invite people out and stand, because most people who go clubbing, go home too and when they go home some of them listen to classical music alone, some jazz, some R&B… so, you kinda fusing all these things together, you literally take this kind of show and plug it in the club. It needs to be in a different environment and the people needs to understand what you’re trying to achieve as well. When they come to the show they know exactly what they’re coming to experience, so it is quite important, but it’s not for everyone, it’s not for every venue as well. You just need to know where you’re putting the show together.
What are your next projects?
I just finished a remix I was doing for &Me, Rampa, for a song called “Muyè”. I’m supposed to work on my album, something I’m just on and off. I’m doing a song with Pharrell and I’m really under pressure but I’m trying to take it easy. I want it to sound really amazing and hopefully that will be my first single. Ah, I’m also working on to produce a song for the great Nelson Mandela. 2018 will be the year of Mandela’s centenary celebrations, so I’m gonna be working on that project. They want to put together a lot of musicians from all over the world and that’s one of the important projects I’m really looking forward to doing.
Could you describe to us your technical set-up? How important do you think nowadays is technology in the DJing field?
Technology is good, it’s good for everyone. I’ve seen people complaining about a lot of things that are very unnecessary. I remember when there was a sync button, and people were losing their mind, almost boycotting the equipment because of this sync button. I think it was there for those who wanted to use it, but not everyone should. If anything, it helped a lot of people to get into DJing, understand and then learn from using it to not using it. So, I’m for technology, for anything that’s there to help to push the culture forward. I’m definitely for it.
As to my set-up, I use USBs and Pioneer DJ mixers, something I kinda wanted to change moving forward, trying to design a mixer and that has all the things that I want. At the moment I use this small router mixer and Pioneer DJ mixer together but I want to create a mixer that would have both and CDJ Players. Anyway, I think my set-up is quiet basic, I just love playing around and do a lot of things while DJing. I love having tools, acapella, drums, so I can really have fun while DJing. That’s about it.
You’re always on the road but if you were to take a break for a couple of years, what city would you choose to stay in and why?
Johannesburg, cause my family is there. I’ve been on the road for 2 years and I haven’t time to take it easy, so my plan was to stay at home. Everyone was asking: “Where are you going for holiday?” and I just wanna be at home, because I travel for work and even when I travel for vacation, it feels like work. My brain is currently a little bit confused about traveling, so when I’m home, even if I do work around South Africa, I feel more relaxed, like I’m taking time off. So, again, I’d definitely stay in Johannesburg. It’s home and there’s an amazing vibe. There’s no other place I’d rather be.
You’re one of those artists we really admired and we will keep supporting you. Thank you so much Black Coffee for stopping by. We hope you will come back again soon! Bye!
Thank you, guys! Bye!
Listen to Black Coffee’s latest releases on Traxsource
Video Filmed and Edited by Samantha Faini.